Gallery East Network

Art / Performance / Education

Les Maitres de l’Affiche: Boston Connections-September 2015

Maitres de L'Affiche, PL052, Bradley, 1897, Lithograph, Imprimerie Chaix, Jules Cheret, Art Nouveau, Belle Epoque, Gallery East, Gallery East NetworkWill Bradley’s When Hearts Are Trumps (Plate 52) first appeared in Les Maitres de l’Affiche in 1897 as a poster promoting a volume of verse by Tom Hall in 1890.

Nicknamed the “Dean of American Designers” by The Saturday Evening Post illustrator William Henry Bradley was the highest paid American artist of the early 20th century. Bradley’s primary medium was posters and he is credited with popularizing the two-dimensional poster style in the United States. His artistic style is considered a branch of Art Nouveau, though it draws heavily from the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Japanese block printing. Often compared to his English contemporary, Aubrey Beardsley, some critics dismissed him as simply “The American Beardsley.” However, Bradley was already an established artist by the time Beardsley’s designs became popular in England in 1894.

Born in Boston in 1868, he obtained a job as an apprentice for a weekly newspaper at the age of 12 following the death of his father. He moved to Chicago at 17, where he held a few brief jobs as a wood engraver and typographer before dedicating himself to freelance graphic design. He moved back to Massachusetts and set up the Wayside Press, where he served as an illustrator, editor, typographer, designer, and press manager for a periodical aptly named Bradley: His Book (1896–1897). The periodical usually contained compilations of poetry, stories, and sketches, and his work received a warm reception; however, health problems forced to sell the Wayside Press.

After briefly working for the American Type Founders and Collier’s Weekly, he worked for William Randolph Hearst’s film division as a supervising art director and assistant director. He later founded his own production company, Dramafilms, and went on to write, produce and directed his own films, including Bitter Fruit (1920), Moongold (1920) and The Tame Cat (1921).

In 1954, The Typophiles published a memoir of Bradley’s life called Will Bradley: His Chap Book; the same year, he won the AIGA award, the highest honor for graphic designers. He was a prolific artist and designer up until his death at age 94.

(To Be Continued in October News)