The Davis Museum Gets an Iconic Art Treasure from the College’s French House

Three people look at a blue poster depicting the Virgin Mary
January 15, 2019

An iconic Air France advertising poster by French artist Edmond Maurus, given to Wellesley’s French Department in 1950, will now have a larger audience thanks to its new home in the Davis Museum.

Marie-Cécile Ganne-Schiermeier, lecturer in French and director of the French House at Wellesley, invited staff from the Davis Museum to survey a collection of posters in the French House after they came across the Maurus work, a gift from Grace Bernstein Hechinger ’52 and June Pinanski Schiff ’52.

“We thought that this was in mint condition,” said Ganne-Schiermeier.

The poster was one of four Maurus designed between 1946 and 1950 for Air France, said Mathilde Leïchlé, the 2018 Liliane Pingoud Soriano ’49 Curatorial Fellow at the Davis Museum. At the time, governments were heavily promoting national tourism and transportation by airplane, train, and automobile. 

The lithograph depicts an 1858 apparition of the Virgin Mary described by Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old miller’s daughter from the village of Lourdes in southern France, who was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933. Soubirous is praying in front of a statue placed inside the Massabielle grotto, and the apparition of the Virgin Mary is in the sky.

“Inspired by both popular Christian iconography and modern forms, Edmond Maurus placed the French company between future and tradition,” said Leïchlé.

Ganne-Schiermeier said the juxtaposition of technology and religion is striking: “It is pretty unorthodox and avant-garde to advertise travel by connecting the miracle of modern transportation with a religious miracle.”

Photo: Mathilde Leïchlé (right), Liliane Pingoud Soriano '49 Curatorial Fellow at the Davis Museum; and Eliza Zizka ’22 (left) look on as Marie-Cecile (center) describes the 1858 Virgin Mary's miraculous apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous, which is depicted in the poster.

With reporting from Lucy Norton ’21.