the Cinematic Art of Batiste Madalena
In 1924, George Eastman hired a 22-year-old Italian art student to create posters for his new gift to the University of Rochester, the glittering new 3,350 seat Eastman Theater. Eastman wasn't satisfied with the advertising materials supplied by the Hollywood studios, usually mass-produced lithographs on paper slightly stronger than newsprint, so he employed Madalena to paint custom designed posters that would bring in the crowds and that could be seen by folks on passing trolleys. Madalena later became one of the most celebrated advertising artists of movies. During only a four year period, 1924-28, he produced approximately seven posters a week, 22x44 inches each in tempura paint. That's about 350 original paintings a year. By the time Eastman sold the theater to the Paramount-Publix chain four years later, there were over 1400 posters in the backstage storage area.
After the theater changed hands, Madalena was let go and he opened a small art studio in downtown Rochester. One drizzling evening in October 1928 he was bicycling home using the street behind the theater as a shortcut when he came upon a sickening scene. The new management of the Eastman Theater had emptied the storage area and threw Madalena's pieces in the trash. In tears, and the tempura paint streaking in the rain, he rescued as many pieces as he could but many were destroyed. He spent the next days drying and repairing the soaked posterboards. Of the 1400 posters, only about 250 have survived.
Although he worked in a variety of illustration styles, Madalena's visual voice comes through with his bold compositions, elegant typography and almost florescent palette. They are on view at MOMA through April 6, 2009.