Saturday 16 January 2016

The Life of a Catalogue Fashion Illustrator

Pauline LeGoff Boutal was a French immigrant who settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the early 1900's.  The daughter and granddaughter of stained glass window artists, she had a flair for the arts.  She studied at both the Winnipeg Art Club and the Winnipeg School of Art.  While many artists are not able to make a living at it, such was not the case with Pauline who was hired by Bridgens of Manitoba, which had a contract with Eaton's Catalogue.  Illustrated magazines were the multimedia of the day; in fact, Bridgens employed 60 to 100 Canadian artists as well specialized artists from Chicago and New York City. 

Whereas other fashion illustrators had to work their way up at Bridgens, because of Pauline's background, she only had to apprentice for six weeks.  Pauline secured a $10 a week position with the company which would last for 23 years.  Known as Madame Boutal by her co-workers, perhaps because Paris was the fashion capital and she was French, she carved out a good living at the company.  Days lasted eight hours, although Pauline put in overtime when a catalogue was about to be launched.  While the artists at Bridgen's put in long hours, there was still time for fun.  The artists enjoyed a strong camaraderie, playing football in the hallways, playing hockey between the drafting tables and pulling practical jokes on each other. 

The work that Pauline and the other artists completed was meticulous and precise.  Pauline demonstrated an expert knowledge of ink drawings.  She created an impression of depth with her drawings of elegant silhouettes.  Rather than copying drawings, Pauline relied on her vivid imagination.  The street served as an inspiration for the young artist. 

Pauline had to be aware of current hairstyles, make up and fashion.  Her silhouettes changed over time:  in the 1920's, they were small and sculpted; in the 1930's, they had straight profiles, no wasitlines and short, wavy hair; by the 1930's, they were active and outdoors.  Each page of the catalogue was like a poster.  Pauline had to be aware of the black and white space, titles, calligraphy, prices and drawings.  Her attention to detail served her well. 

Pauline stopped working for Bridgen's in 1941.  By the 1950's, photographs seemed to replace drawings.  Pauline continued her work as a fashion illustrator. 

Pauline Boutal at work, 1947.

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