Although Louis Icart is best known for his boudoir art, his experimentation with motion is worth exploring. Whereas the majority of his work can almost be described as still life, his etchings portraying motion defy convention. Some of his most desirable and recognizable works fall into this category. Here we present 10 works in chronological order designed to showcase his development of the theme of motion.
Although an early piece from the “Fashion period”, Icart uses the wind as a device to showcase the figure of the model. Her silky dress is blown tight across her legs, removing much about her figure from the imagination. While the subject herself does not portray motion, the work would not have the impact the wind imparts. “Empire Dress” asserts itself as the earliest known work involving such motion.
During the “War Years”, Louis Icart flew many missions as a pilot. His etchings took on distinctive patriotic themes. “Voice of the Cannon” portrays lady liberty blasting out towards the enemy from a cannon. The explosive cloud wraps around her as she howls at her foes. This piece is considered as the first where the subject is actually portraying a sense of speed.
The subject of “Motorcar” is a young woman racing down the road with her faithful dog companion. Stray horizontal lines across the surface of the vehicle contribute to the motif of motion, while the flapping red scarf draws attention to the wind. “Motorcar” stands alone as the only instance known where a model is shown in rapid motion by mechanical means. It is also worth noting that in 1923 it was scandalous for a woman to operate an automobile.
Although “Diana Coursing” is not the first of the “Coursing” etchings, it remains the first which portrays a woman with hunting dogs. This theme recurs throughout the next decades. Known as the Goddess of the Hunt, Diana (AKA Artemis) leads her dogs toward the prey. Both her and the dogs rush forward, in sight of their prize. It is clear that this etching is a precursor to a theme he returned to time and time again.
A mere three years after “Diana Coursing”, “Speed” by Louis Icart exploded upon the art world in 1927. It quickly became one of his most iconic works. With no clear background to distract, the three dogs show motion in a remarkable way. Each of the dogs is shown in a successive position of a leap forward… almost as if a series of photos were overlaid. The model’s clothing whips behind her as she presses forward. She carries a whip as if to drive the dogs faster, although they remain restrained by their leashes. This etching sold out quickly, and so a very similar etching “Speed II” followed in 1933.
Just one year after the amazing success of “Speed”, Louis Icart treated the world to “Zest”. Although it has a similar motif, there remain a few important differences. In addition to the hunting dog theme, this woman seems to ride the along with the dogs, being pulled forward by their motion. Also, she and the dogs appear on a downhill run. She is not controlling the dogs, she hunts with them as if she is one of them. While one can find minor differences, she appears to be the same woman as shown in “Speed”.
In “Coursing II”, our goddess and her three canine companions from “Speed”” have returned. They dance around her as if to say “It’s time to hunt! Show us the way!”. As a result, she twists herself around, her arms raised. Her clothing spirals around her, as if her motion flings them outward. Although it was created later, it certainly could be considered a prelude to the image shown in “Speed”.
Although “Speed II” is nearly identical to “Speed”, it is a separate etching. The popularity of his motion-styled works from a commercial standpoint demanded even more, so Icart reached back to 1927 and recreated his masterwork. The differences may be subtle, but collectors often argue the merits of each. Experts agree that the edition size of “Speed II” was quite large when compared with others of the time.
Released in 1938, Louis Icart reasserted his ability to portray motion, this time using a horse instead of hunting dogs. Everything about this image instills a feeling of motion and speed. The title “Thoroughbreds” compares a woman of breeding to a well-bred racehorse, a theme that had been out of fashion for over a decade. She races into the future, proudly proclaiming the independent young woman of means will not pass into the past. Many collectors compete when this work occasional comes to market. Indeed, with a small edition size there are not enough extant to go around.
Finally, we come to the last etching to examine. The last image is also one of the last etchings to be produced by Louis Icart. Although he returns to a woman with a horse, this realistic snapshot shows a strong young woman in firm control of her steed. The message is clear: she controls her own destiny. For five decades Icart’s women evolved, from pretty dainty things whose only value was their beauty, to self-assured women who chart their own course. In the end, he leaves us with a strong image of what it is to be a modern woman, a legacy slowly approaching equality.
The women in motion allow us to appreciate the changes in perception about women, and what it is to be beautiful. In the words of William Shakespeare:
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”