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Few magazines managed to embody the creative aesthetic of their time as Verve magazine did in the first half of the 20th century. And although the Paris-based journal last received some attention in 1988, when Verve: The Ultimate Review of Art and Literature was published, it has mostly faded into obscurity; that retrospective, edited by Michel Anthonioz, has since gone out of print. It’s easy to consider the role of artists in magazines as consigned to, say, Shepard Fairey schlock on the cover of Time or a Koonsy T cover, but for a significant chunk of the 20th century, magazines played a significant role in cultivating the public audience for the artists of their day.
This isn’t to say that excellent art is impossible to come by in the pages of today’s journals, just that its role in high-visibility magazines, or its concentration in a single publication, has been diminished — and, in fairness, so has the significance of magazines as vessels for culture. Writing in 1988, John Russell of the New York Times remembered it thus:
Fifty years ago in Paris, the magazine to look for was Verve, which first came out in December 1937 and kept going in one form or another till 1960. That first cover (by Henri Matisse) sang out from the other side of the street in a way that made us run across the road to look at it more closely. And when we turned its pages, Verve had a bosomy, full-fleshed, slightly slithery quality that this former subscriber would know in his sleep.
Yes, it was a publication for the ages. Verve featured art for art’s sake, not as an accessory to an editorial vision, a narrowly conceived commission, or a luxe signifier. Here are some standouts from the nearly fifty years of Verve, all culled from eBay because, well, there is no better repository of Verve lithographs, as far as we can tell (get on that, digital archivists).
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