Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ephemeral Beauty: An Odd Double-Sided Chromolithograph

Click image to enlarge.

Hmmmm…this is weird. It’s not a trade card. Its paper is thin and glossy and printed with an illustration on both sides. It’s not a scrap, certainly. It was not cut from a magazine since the odds of the image being centered in the same spot on two sides of a page are quite slim. So, what is it?

This chromolithograph depicts two scenes. One shows a well-dressed, if not wild-eyed, gent holding a package of the unfortunately named Sapolio—a brand of soap which was quite popular between 1883 and 1908. Sapolio is notable for its aggressive advertising campaigns. By 1908, they’d run out of steam with their advertising. When their interesting ads stopped, people stopped buying the product and it died (it was recently resurrected with modest success in Peru and Chile). The man in the scene has swept back a dramatic drapery to remove a life-sized statue. Is he going to clean her with his bar of soap? Has he cleaned her? Is he going to clean himself in front of her? Was she a polychrome sculpture which has been stripped of any and all pigment by being scrubbed with what I can only assume was a fairly harsh cleanser?

Let’s see what’s on the reverse. 

Click image to enlarge.

The other side shows a lad in a kilt with his mum. He’s drinking precariously from a large bottle. He’s upset a bowl and is mother is concerned by it. Or maybe she’s concerned because there’s a fox carved into her over-mantle. Maybe the kid’s a drunk and he’s fallen off the wagon. I trust he’s not drinking Sapolio. In fact, I can’t see any relationship between the two images. Yet, they’re created in the same style by, presumably, the same artist.

Could this be an ad for Sapolio? A portion of an ad? Or is it an image for something else which employed the use of the Sapolio brand since, for awhile, the name was synonymous with soap in general.

It will remain a mystery...a charming, brightly-colored mystery.

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