It’s 1979 and I’m on the Night Ferry, an overnight sleeper train running between London’s Victoria Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord. Cue the accordion soundtrack, the slight hint of Channel No 5 and certainly the distinctive aroma of a Disque Blue. Where else could we possibly be?
The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (Literally “Sleeping Cars”) maintained twelve carriages that were custom designed to fit the smaller gauge of the British railway network. The service started in 1936 and was discontinued in 1980 – using the same rolling stock throughout – but prior to Eurostar it was the only non-stop way to get from London to Paris. The carriages were loaded onto “train-ferries” for the cross channel section of the journey and at Dunkerque the carriages were off-loaded for the onward journey to Paris.
The luxurious Wagons-Lits was founded in 1872 by Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers, who had seen the Pullman night carriages operating whilst on a trip to the United States in the late 1860’s. He imported the idea into Europe. Wagon-Lits quickly established itself as the premier provider and operator of European railway sleepers and dining cars. They only provided the carriages and relied upon the domestic or state-wide operators for the locomotives that pulled them.
The journey that I would have loved to taken would have been on The Côte d’Azur Pullman Express which ran from December 1929 until May 1939. The service was operated by Wagons-Lits and the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (known as the PLM). The train was scheduled to leave Paris at 08:50, stopping at Dijon, Lyon and Marseilles and making further stops at the resort towns along the French Riviera including, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, Nice, reaching its final destination, Ventimiglia (Italy). The journey took 15 hours and 10 minutes.
Accompanying the promotion for this new service many iconic travel posters were commissioned including in 1929, the Pierre Fix-Masseau piece, shown as our featured image.
Pierre’s father, Pierre Félix Masseau, was, until 1935, the director of the École Nationale d’Art Décoratif (“Art Deco”) in Limoges. The inevitable result was that, Pierre’s poster work – and that of his many poster-art contemporaries, Roger Broders, Cassandre and Paul Colin – was heavily influenced by Art Deco, a successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau. Art Deco was above all associated with both luxury and modernity; it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship realised in modernistic forms – hence its use in these seductive travel posters.
These wonderful posters were designed to lure inquisitive travellers into sampling the delights of the then modern European and luxurious railway system, to holiday in alluring destinations of snow and beach but, above all, they are the most remarkable examples of stylised commercial art. Our continued fascination with these fine works has resulted in their comparative scarcity and justifiable value.