One of the most important Art Deco artists working in Paris in the 1920s and 30s was Charles Martin, an all-rounder who could turn his hand to anything and everything from posters, wallpaper, perfume bottles, furniture and fashion design to magazine illustration and book design. He grew up in Montpellier, where he began his art studies, before moving to Paris to study at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts.
On leaving art school he quickly found work with the leading fashion magazines, including the Gazette du Bon Ton, Modes et Manieres d’Aujourd’hui, La Vie Parisienne, Journal Des Dames et Des Modes, and Vogue. He also contributed illustrations to the American magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. His circle of friends included the artists Gabriel Daragnès and Roger Lacourière, the writer Pierre Mac Orlan, and the composer Erik Satie; in 1919 he collaborated with Satie on an illustrated musical score entitled Sports et Divertissements.
Martin’s first book illustrations also appeared in 1919, illustrating his own poetic memoir of his experiences as a soldier in the First World War; Sous les pots de fleurs (Under the Flowerpots), with an introduction by Mac Orlan, demonstrates that he already had a mature design sense coupled with a wry wit.
As he developed his Art Deco style, concentrating on clean lines and bold colour, an interest in sexual roles and encounters led to the iconic portfolio Mascarades et amusettes, and to commissions from major Paris publishing houses to illustrate classics including Prosper Merimée’s Carmen, Henri de Regnier’s L’illusion héroïque de Tito Bassi, Charles de Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes, and La Fontaine’s Contes et nouvelles.