Introduction

For 23 years, Pauline (Le Goff) Boutal (1894-1992) worked as a fashion illustrator at Brigdens of Winnipeg, a graphic arts firm whose main activity was the illustration of the Eaton's catalogue produced for its customers in Western Canada.

Pauline Boutal was born in Lanhouarneau, Brittany, in 1894. In 1907, she emigrated to Manitoba with her family. Her father and her grandfather, both of whom were stained-glass artists, introduced her to art at a very early age. When she was 15, she got her first job as an apprentice typographer at Le Nouvelliste, a St. Boniface newspaper. Her first caricatures were produced there. In 1911, she began her studies at the Winnipeg Art Club, followed by courses at the Winnipeg School of Art. In 1916-17, she spent 18 months in France, where she married Arthur Boutal. Upon her return to Manitoba, she sought work as a fashion illustrator.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when Pauline Boutal became interested in illustration, printed and illustrated materials were flooding the market. Today, it is difficult to imagine the extent of the phenomenon. At the time, illu Read More
Introduction

For 23 years, Pauline (Le Goff) Boutal (1894-1992) worked as a fashion illustrator at Brigdens of Winnipeg, a graphic arts firm whose main activity was the illustration of the Eaton's catalogue produced for its customers in Western Canada.

Pauline Boutal was born in Lanhouarneau, Brittany, in 1894. In 1907, she emigrated to Manitoba with her family. Her father and her grandfather, both of whom were stained-glass artists, introduced her to art at a very early age. When she was 15, she got her first job as an apprentice typographer at Le Nouvelliste, a St. Boniface newspaper. Her first caricatures were produced there. In 1911, she began her studies at the Winnipeg Art Club, followed by courses at the Winnipeg School of Art. In 1916-17, she spent 18 months in France, where she married Arthur Boutal. Upon her return to Manitoba, she sought work as a fashion illustrator.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when Pauline Boutal became interested in illustration, printed and illustrated materials were flooding the market. Today, it is difficult to imagine the extent of the phenomenon. At the time, illustrated magazines were as popular as multimedia is today. For Pauline Boutal, a career in the graphic arts was a very real possibility, since it was a field in which artists (both men and women) earned a good living.

In February 1918, therefore, Pauline Boutal approached Brigdens, a graphic arts firm. There is every indication that her portfolio reflected the illustration methods employed at the time. The 22-year-old was qualified to be a fashion illustrator.

Brigdens of Winnipeg, a Graphic Arts Firm

In 1914, Brigdens, a Toronto firm, opened a branch in Winnipeg to illustrate the catalogue produced by Eaton's for its customers in the West. It was a monumental task; Brigdens of Winnipeg had to hire 60 to 100 artists as well as retain the services of specialized artists in Chicago and New York City.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white photo of Pauline Boutal

Pauline Boutal, ca 1918

Louise Warwick Collection

© Louise Warwick Collection


The Apprenticeship at Brigdens

As a general rule, when Brigdens hired young artists, they had to acquire experience before using their talent; in other words, they had to perform various duties to climb up the ladder. For example, John Phillips, a colleague Pauline Boutal worked with for many years, remembers his early days at the agency. His duties consisted of renewing the water used by artists who worked with watercolours. Philip Surrey started out as a floor sweeper at the firm in the 1920s. Pauline Boutal had the advantage of her artistic training. After a very brief six-week apprenticeship, during which she was paid two dollars a week, the young woman earned a position among the firm's best artists at a salary of ten dollars a week. She was given an office, unlike some of the other artists, whose workstations were set up in rows in a common area. The staff at Brigdens called her Madame Boutal. That is not surprising, since she was of European origin (French), Paris was the world fashion capital, and she had just returned from a trip to France. In 1947, when John Phillips launched his own company, Phillips & Gutkin, he in Read More
The Apprenticeship at Brigdens

As a general rule, when Brigdens hired young artists, they had to acquire experience before using their talent; in other words, they had to perform various duties to climb up the ladder. For example, John Phillips, a colleague Pauline Boutal worked with for many years, remembers his early days at the agency. His duties consisted of renewing the water used by artists who worked with watercolours. Philip Surrey started out as a floor sweeper at the firm in the 1920s. Pauline Boutal had the advantage of her artistic training. After a very brief six-week apprenticeship, during which she was paid two dollars a week, the young woman earned a position among the firm's best artists at a salary of ten dollars a week. She was given an office, unlike some of the other artists, whose workstations were set up in rows in a common area. The staff at Brigdens called her Madame Boutal. That is not surprising, since she was of European origin (French), Paris was the world fashion capital, and she had just returned from a trip to France. In 1947, when John Phillips launched his own company, Phillips & Gutkin, he included a photograph of her in his advertising poster with the following caption: "Pauline Boutal: Fashion Consultant." "We felt that a person like Madame Boutal gave an art company a certain prestige," stated Phillips.

The Work Environment

To be among the artists employed by Brigdens was an enriching experience. Pauline Boutal stated that she worked with many artists of varying talent, including Fritz Brandtner, Charles Comfort, and Eric Bergman. The company's management and the artists respected one another. The artists generally worked eight hours a day, except during the two intensive periods in which the catalogue was prepared. During slow periods, Brigdens paid artists' tuition at the Winnipeg School of Art, in an effort to keep its good artists. By doing so, it made sure that they remained loyal to the company and would return there enriched by greater expertise. For six or seven years, Pauline Boutal took advantage of her employer's generous offer.

A Creative Team Spirit

Naturally, the creative spirit was not limited to work. According to some of the artists, there was a spirit of camaraderie between staff members. John Phillips remembers how the artists played football in the hallways. Barbara Cook Endres recalls the hockey games played between the rows of drafting tables. The artists also liked to play jokes on each other. For example, they took turns doing caricatures of one another, not all of which were kind. Phillips added that "it was fun at Brigden's, in spite of the heavy work schedule."

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white photo of Pauline Boutal at Work

Pauline Boutal at Work, 1947

From a brochure published by Phillips & Gutkins and Associates Ltd.

© From a brochure published by Phillips & Gutkins and Associates Ltd.


Production of the Catalogue: The Universal Technique of Fashion Illustration

Pauline Boutal specialized in fashion illustration for women's clothing because her technique combined meticulousness and precision, and showed great skill in the use of a brush and an expert knowledge of ink drawing. Women's silhouettes had to be elegant and their contour had to be well defined by a strong, precise line. Characterized by gradations of wash that created shadows, the drawing had to sculpt the models in a way that gave the impression of depth. Even everyday dresses were presented in an idealized manner and as carefully illustrated and coloured as evening dresses.

Pauline Boutal had to follow the standard trends in fashion illustration; she had to lengthen the body in the 1 to 8 ratio characteristic of fashion drawings. Despite these technical requirements, she had to produce illustrations that were realistic, detailed, glamorous, and lively. She had a solid knowledge of human anatomy. John Phillips recalls that she did not copy drawings, but rather created them from her own imagination. He mentioned that she had a photographic me Read More
Production of the Catalogue: The Universal Technique of Fashion Illustration

Pauline Boutal specialized in fashion illustration for women's clothing because her technique combined meticulousness and precision, and showed great skill in the use of a brush and an expert knowledge of ink drawing. Women's silhouettes had to be elegant and their contour had to be well defined by a strong, precise line. Characterized by gradations of wash that created shadows, the drawing had to sculpt the models in a way that gave the impression of depth. Even everyday dresses were presented in an idealized manner and as carefully illustrated and coloured as evening dresses.

Pauline Boutal had to follow the standard trends in fashion illustration; she had to lengthen the body in the 1 to 8 ratio characteristic of fashion drawings. Despite these technical requirements, she had to produce illustrations that were realistic, detailed, glamorous, and lively. She had a solid knowledge of human anatomy. John Phillips recalls that she did not copy drawings, but rather created them from her own imagination. He mentioned that she had a photographic memory and could quickly reproduce someone in full movement, simply by looking at the person. The street was often a source of inspiration for her fashion drawings.

A Style for Every Season

Each new season brought a new style that had to be interpreted in drawings. In the 23 years she worked as a fashion illustrator, Pauline Boutal had to adapt her drawings to the changing silhouettes of the models. Early in her career, in the 1910s, the catalogues featured small models with well-sculpted bodies. However, in the 1920s, that changed; models had straight profiles, without waistlines, and short, wavy hair. This popular style of illustration featured young women with big eyes, small lips carefully shaped like a heart, and carefully styled hair. The models also had to look healthy, have a fair, fresh complexion, and still look like the girl next door! As for the 1930s woman, she was a person of action. Her look was depicted in moving silhouettes in an outdoor setting.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white illustrations of famous silhouettes produced at the Bridgens agency

The famous silhouettes giving the impression of depth produced at the Bridgens agency. Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1934, p. 4 (detail).

Photo : Louise Duguay

© Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Manitoba Museum


Following the Trends

Fashion illustration for catalogues tended to follow the trends in the major magazines. As a result, Brigdens placed the most recent fashion magazines and various popular magazines at the disposal of its artists who considered the accessories, themes, and look of the season before beginning the artistic production of a new catalogue. Pauline Boutal, therefore, had to be familiar with the latest styles in clothing, hair, makeup, and accessories such as shoes, purses, and gloves.

Co-operation between the Members of the Production Team

Co-operation between the members of the production team was essential to the production of the catalogue. During the intensive periods when it was being prepared, the artists shared the responsibility of creating the fashion drawings and sometimes even split the drawings among themselves, creating a production line. Edith Benson (Bolterill), who worked at the agency with Pauline Boutal in the 1930s, used to say that she considered herself very lucky to be able to draw heads when she was given t Read More
Following the Trends

Fashion illustration for catalogues tended to follow the trends in the major magazines. As a result, Brigdens placed the most recent fashion magazines and various popular magazines at the disposal of its artists who considered the accessories, themes, and look of the season before beginning the artistic production of a new catalogue. Pauline Boutal, therefore, had to be familiar with the latest styles in clothing, hair, makeup, and accessories such as shoes, purses, and gloves.

Co-operation between the Members of the Production Team

Co-operation between the members of the production team was essential to the production of the catalogue. During the intensive periods when it was being prepared, the artists shared the responsibility of creating the fashion drawings and sometimes even split the drawings among themselves, creating a production line. Edith Benson (Bolterill), who worked at the agency with Pauline Boutal in the 1930s, used to say that she considered herself very lucky to be able to draw heads when she was given the opportunity, since she usually drew only legs, her specialty. As for Pauline Boutal, she drew the female silhouettes.

Patterns Based on Catalogue Drawings

Since the Eaton's catalogue had precise, detailed drawings of the items available, consumers could make choices without having to go to the store to see the merchandise. In fact, Pauline Boutal and the other artists had to illustrate each article of clothing so clearly that a seamstress could have created a pattern based on their drawings. It is amusing to note that, in villages where the Eaton's catalogue was the only source of merchandise, it was possible to know if a neighbour had ordered her new dress from the company. According to reporter John Brehl, "Everyone knew what you paid for things, since everyone had an Eaton's catalogue. After a wedding or other gathering, women couldn't wait to get home to look up the new hats or dresses worn by the other girls."

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Catalogue Design

The artistic director was responsible for the overall design of the catalogue and the graphic presentation of each page. Once the layout was determined, ideas were communicated to the illustrators and production began.

Each new catalogue had a theme that reflected the era and the season. For example, in the 1925 catalogue, the predominant floral theme was illustrated using vines and flowers. The geometric theme of the 1927 catalogue was depicted using lines and shapes. The Hollywood theme of the 1930s was recreated in the publication by showing the silhouettes in bubbles, as movie stars were presented at the time, or by adding stars to the backgrounds.

The Layout of the Drawings

Each page of the catalogue was treated as a poster, and particular attention was paid to the black-and-white space, the placement of titles, descriptions that were embellished with meticulous calligraphy, the prices, and the background drawings. Drawings dominated some pages that featured descriptions of supplementary services or advice on Read More
Catalogue Design

The artistic director was responsible for the overall design of the catalogue and the graphic presentation of each page. Once the layout was determined, ideas were communicated to the illustrators and production began.

Each new catalogue had a theme that reflected the era and the season. For example, in the 1925 catalogue, the predominant floral theme was illustrated using vines and flowers. The geometric theme of the 1927 catalogue was depicted using lines and shapes. The Hollywood theme of the 1930s was recreated in the publication by showing the silhouettes in bubbles, as movie stars were presented at the time, or by adding stars to the backgrounds.

The Layout of the Drawings

Each page of the catalogue was treated as a poster, and particular attention was paid to the black-and-white space, the placement of titles, descriptions that were embellished with meticulous calligraphy, the prices, and the background drawings. Drawings dominated some pages that featured descriptions of supplementary services or advice on the care and purchase of certain articles.

The layout of the drawings showed models of different sizes in various poses and arranged harmoniously on the page. At that point in the production, Pauline Boutal made numerous small sketches of about five or six centimetres [two inches] on tracing paper, sometimes using colleagues as models. She drew women's silhouettes, alone or in a group. These occupied the foreground, while a décor depicting an idealized scene from daily life (such as a luxurious suburban home or a modern downtown building) appeared in the background. She organized and reorganized the drawings until she was satisfied with the composition. If the artistic director did not like the result, she had to start all over again. At the end of the day, the floor was littered with crumpled paper and rejected drawings. Communication between the artistic director and the artists was essential. In addition, the choice of ideas and themes could take weeks of deliberation, discussion, and preliminary drawings. Brigdens' specialized artists wanted to reproduce illustrations of the highest quality. Eaton's was justifiably proud of its catalogue.

Conclusion

The success of Brigdens of Winnipeg and its important contract with Eaton's for the production of its catalogue allowed Pauline Boutal to distinguish herself as an artist and to pursue a career as a fashion illustrator over a period of 23 years. Pauline Boutal considered herself "lucky" to have spent those years at the agency: "I worked as a fashion illustrator in the production of the Eaton's catalogue, which allowed me to liberate my art." (Transl.)

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Black and white sketches of two young women by Pauline Boutal

Two sketches attributed to Pauline Boutal, ca 1920, pencil on paper. These two young women, identified on the drawings as Anderson and Kay Star, were probably co-workers.

Photo : Louise Duguay.

© Manitoba Museum


Black and white photo of Pauline Boutal

Pauline Boutal at her drafting table, 1950.

Louise Warwick Collection

© Louise Warwick Collection


Black and white photo of catalogue page of women's fashion

Hollywood's influence on the art of presenting women's fashion, in Eaton's (Winnipeg) Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1934, pp. 5, 24 (detail).

Photo : Louise Duguay.

© Used with permission of Sears Canada Inc., Manitoba Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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