Known to collectors of art across the world as Louis Icart, The undisputed master of boudoir art was born September 12, 1888 as Louis Justin Laurent Icart. Correctly pronounced “EE-cah”, most Americans say “Eye-Cart”. It matters little how you say it, when you do speak the name it conjures images of beautiful women in 1920’s and 1930’s Paris and New York.
He was born in the south of France, in the city of Toulouse to his father, Jean, and his mother, Elizabeth Girot. Jean Icart was a banker of some local renown, and like many parents, he hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps. In his home he was known as “Helli” after the French pronunciation of his initials, “L.I.”. Despite his father’s urging that he follow a career in business, young Louis was interested in the arts. He studied music, theater, and was especially taken with the literature of Victor Hugo. Although he was known at an early age to have created creative little humorous sketches for family and friends, his first love was acting. After performing in several school plays, young Louis determined that he would pursue a career in acting.
After his basic schooling, Louis fulfilled his legal obligation for a two-year enlistment in the French military. When he returned home to Toulouse, he stayed with his parents who supported him. In order to follow his dream of becoming a professional performer, he took several clerical jobs in order to save money to move to Paris. In 1907, his dream became a reality, when he and his friend Jules Esquirol finally traveled to the city of lights. The duo rented space in a hotel within walking distance of the popular arts district.
Paris in 1907 was experiencing an explosion in the interest in arts of all kinds, especially opera, symphonies, and of course the theater. But in his spare time, he began to gravitate to the salons, exhibitions, and museums. He was especially drawn to the works in the Rococo and impressionist styles. As his interest in theater began to wane, it was slowly replaced by interest in the field of fine arts. As luck would have it, he found employment at a company in the business of creating and selling postcards. The postcard themes were usually French women in various states of undress, often in risque poses. His first duty was to apply small watercolor details to the small etched images. It was during this time that he observed and learned the etching process that he would eventually master. Louis is known to have experimented with hundreds of postcard etchings by 1908, and some can still be found signed simply as “Helli”. There are few examples extant, and they command great prices when they come to market.
In order to generate additional income, Louis began designing and submitting etchings to various magazines. His work was immediately accepted, and his images were featured on the covers of a variety of magazines. Looking to expand his horizons, he began sending portfolios to major fashion houses. His first commission came quickly from La Maison Valmont, a famous designer of women’s hats. He created graphics for their advertisements, and this exposure quickly led to additional commissions from competing fashion houses.
As his fame began to grow, he was encouraged to display his work at the third annual Salon des Humoristes. His work was widely praised, which led to an exhibition at the famous Georges Petit Gallery.
Louis Icart married a young widow sometime in 1912, but the marriage did not last, and they quickly separated. In 1914, he met another young girl while delivering some sketches to a fashion house. Her name was Fanny Volmers, and Louis was smitten by the petite eighteen year-old blond. They took an apartment together in 1914, but fate would quickly intervene and separate them.
As World War I began raging across the European continent, a draft was called by the french government. Louis was drafted into the infantry, although he was given a desk job rather than combat. He often traveled back to Paris to see his beloved Fanny, and in August of 1915 she gave birth to Louis’s only child, a girl named Reine. Throughout this period he brought back many sketches, and Fanny worked hard to promote his work in his absence. These efforts bore great rewards, as she managed to get a portion of each edition sent to a gallery in the United States. There his works would be marketed to the American public by F. H. Bresler & Company, where they sold briskly.
In 1916, Louis was reassigned to the Tenth Airborne Division, where he became the pilot of his own aircraft. During this time he continued to create works in the evening. In November of 1918, World War I officially ended, and Louis returned to Fanny and Reine and they were immediately married. The post-war mood was ecstatic, and the demand for the delicate work of Louis Icart was at once in high demand. by 1920, Louis was a wealthy man, and he purchased a 10- acre estate south of Paris. His popularity exploded world-wide, and his output was staggering. In 1922 Louis and Fanny went on a publicity tour across the United States, which only fueled the desire for his artwork. louis was now the undisputed master of the boudoir art movement.
When the great Depression struck in the 1930’s, nearly all sales of art ended. It is during this period that most of Icart’s contemporaries ended their careers. Although the number of editions he created during this period declined, his work continued, albeit at a much slower pace. His styling started migrating to become slightly more impressionist.
When World War II broke upon the scene, Icart could produce very little work due to the lack of copper for plates. His ability to export was also completely severed, although he still managed to produce some patriotic pieces during this period. But after the war, the world was weary and exhausted. The task of rebuilding left little time for pleasantries, and despite his best efforts Icart found little market for his 1920’s and 1930’s style of art. Tastes had moved on, and although he continued to work, the edition sizes were very small, and the editions were few and far between. Louis died on December 30th, 1950. Some of his last works were printed and offered for sale as late as 1953, effectively ending forever the era of boudoir art.