“To me he is the greatest… a span ahead of all the others: Eric, Lepape, Marty, Benito,” so said René Gruau – the master – of Etienne Drian (1885 -1961).
I agree. Of all the fashion artists who rose to prominence in Paris before World War 1, Drian was the most restrained. Or perhaps I should say the most refined. As Marty, Barbier and Lepape embarked on ever more daring experiments with colour, perspective and surface design, Drian drew what he saw. Working from life, his models were notable for their elegant – but distinctly flesh and blood – beauty. As his peers embraced Orientalism and dreams of 1001 nights, Drian explored the inherent possibilities of line. In many ways, his gestural brushwork and grand manner made him a link between Boldini and Gruau. Drian was also a superb graphic artist. His series of drawings (seen here) designed to raise morale for a special wartime issue of the magazine ‘Gazette du Bon Temps’ in 1915 are masterpieces of storytelling. He worked for the major publications of the day, designed murals, furniture and window displays, and illustrated novels and fairy tales. In the latter part of his career, he became known principally as a portrait painter, living in high style. (One of his subjects, the Duchess of Windsor, would buy his country home, Moulin de Tuilerie, near Paris.) Above all, Drian was a draughtsman of dreams.