Backgrounds: The Painted Backdrop

There are three main types of background for these postcards: the painted backdrop, the white backdrop, and the outdoor setting.

The Painted Backdrop

The painted backdrop comes from a long tradition of studio portraiture, beginning in the earliest years of commercial photography. By the 1920s the use of painted backdrops for commercial portraiture appears to have been in decline (though this is an area begging for study), although they were robustly employed for these postcards throughout the period.

Painted backdrops ranged from vague patterns of shadow and light:

ars 501 (462x700) (198x300)

to interiors:

sol 4307 (195x300)

to romantic, painterly outdoor views:

A Noyer 3 (700x457) (300x196)

to geometric, Art Deco designs in the early 1930s:

pc paris 3178 (185x300)

Common backdrop tropes include patterns of foliage:

pc paris 1803 (188x300)

Skies, often with stars and/or moons:

PC Paris 2781-2 (193x300)

and water (also often with moons):

a noyer 1823 (300x189)

Despite these recurrent themes, the re-use of exact backdrops is rare. Thus far I have found only two examples– this cloud-and-moon backdrop, used for two similar photoshoots:

Pc Paris 1239 (438x700) (188x300) Bleuet 309 (451x700) (193x300)

and this fireplace backdrop, which I have found three times so far:

PC Paris 2007-2 (439x700) (188x300) pc paris 1988 (187x300) sl 4026 (188x300)
(middle postcard from the collection of a friend and fellow postcard enthusiast)

The backdrop was sometimes integrated into the overall scene– in most of the fireplace compositions, for instance, lighting is designed to imitate the light of the “fireplace.” Winter backdrops, too, usually come along with winter clothing:

sol 3371 (189x300)

However, the reverse can also be true. It is not uncommon to see a backdrop painted with an outdoor scene paired with figures posed on clearly indoor furniture:

a noyer 1646 (300x190)

Painted backdrops were used regularly through the period of these postcards, from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s.

Next: The White Backdrop

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