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The art of money. Mucha, Stuart, Narbut, Clément-Serveau and other creators of millions

Money is beautiful. We pay attention to its denominational value, forgetting that it is also a work of art. Even reputed artists — from the Father of Art Nouveau Alphonse Mucha to the creator of a distinctively American portrait style Gilbert Stuart — were not above "making money." We share the striking designs of banknotes, talk about the creators of millions, and find out which of them have been honored to become a "bargaining chip" in the form of portraits on banknotes.

How Mucha drew money

Sketches of the first money, postage stamps, coat of arms and government formsheets for the state of Czechoslovakia (formed in 1918), were created by the famous Alphonse Mucha. His Art Nouveau banknote designs are distinguished by the finest lace weave (at that time, no currency in the world could boast such counterfeit protection), elegant flower patterns, children’s and women’s heads, shades of pink and deep green.

Illustrations: Ivan Dubasov’s money-related works,
less familiar to the public than the works
for the banknotes, issued in 1961
In 1923, Mucha, who was a member of the Masonic Lodge (which he officially joined in France in 1898), depicted secret symbols (a hammer, a sun and others) on the 50 korun note (illustration below) — 12 years before Masonic symbols (a pyramid and an eye) appeared on the United States one-dollar bill.
Alphonse Mucha’s daughter Jaroslava became a model for his banknote. The artist was an excellent photographer, and this hobby helped him to create works that are still famous.

US dollars: let's talk about Washington

The one-dollar bill owes its "face" to Gilbert Charles Stuart (1755−1828). This "bad egg" didn’t even finish the portrait of George Washington, but managed to sell 130 of its copies.
Born in America, Gilbert Stuart spent all his life moving from England to the United States and back, trying to catch good luck and running away from his debt. However, luck was also chasing him. At the age of 22, he had already exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, and after the success of The Skater, his paintings were in higher demand than those by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Nevertheless, this child of fortune managed to squander everything, and once even almost wind up in debtor’s prison.
In 1795, having settled in Philadelphia, the artist stroke up prestigious acquaintances. He painted several portraits of George Washington, including the famous unfinished Athenaeum.
When Stuart died, his wife and daughter were unable to purchase a grave site, and the artist — author of the famous work that we see on one-dollar bills — was buried in an unmarked grave.
Gilbert Stuart is considered one of the founders of a distinctively American painting
Gilbert Stuart. Portrait Of John Trumbull

One more interesting fact: among the paintings created by Gilbert Stuart, there is a portrait of John Trumbull (1756−1843) who painted Declaration of Independence, which is depicted on the reverse side of the two-dollar bill. A fruity story is associated with this currency note. Although all US federal notes issued since 1861 are still legal tender, there are also notes whose issue has been discontinued or is irregular. This includes the two-dollar bill, which used to be unpopular due to the "shyness" of Americans. That’s how much a visit to a prostitute, buying one vote in an election and a bookmaker’s stake cost. That’s why two-dollar bills in one’s wallet revealed their owner’s shady ventures.

The secrets of Goznak (State Insignia)

In the USSR, artists made money by remaining unknown and even highly classified. And it was just a while ago when the veil of secrecy was finally lifted. The main monetary artist of the Soviet Union was Ivan Dubasov (1897−1988).
For his first work, he received 1 billion rubles: the Izvestia newspaper announced a competition for the best sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
of a stamp dedicated to the 5th anniversary of the Soviet regime, and the 25-year-old boy from Odintsovo was declared a winner. He spent prize money to buy felt boots for his mother. At the exhibition of works, the artist was approached by people in civilian clothes and… invited to work for Goznak (State Insignia).
Ivan Dubasov has been the creator of the designs of all Soviet money since the 1930s (before that, from 1923 — he created joint sketches with other artists), as well as the coat of arms of the USSR, state awards, postage stamps, etc. He is the author of banknotes of the GDR, Mongolia, Poland, China, Czechoslovakia and Albania.
For his merits, Ivan Dubasov was awarded the Order of Lenin, in the design of which he had his hand.

We’ll give you another story connected with Dubasov. "At the height of the Great Patriotic War, in 1943… they took schoolchildren who completed the 6th or 7th grades… literally off the street… and organized a special trade school of Goznak. The children were fed, given clothes and shoes and for five years meticulously trained to become the unique high-class specialists… The future graphic artists were revealed secrets of designing security papers by the main artist of Goznak — Ivan Dubasov and his deputy Sergey Pomansky, as well as taught classical engraving by artists and engravers Semyon Aferov and Nikolai Mikheev. And they taught seriously, genuinely, sparing no expensive copper plates or the best American engraving tools; the kids studied the history of arts and visited museums."

Illustrations: Ivan Dubasov’s money-related works, less familiar to the public than his works for the banknotes, issued in 1961

In 2014, at the exhibition "Secret Soviet artists: they created money, documents, stamps, post cards," which was held in different Russian cities, the names of Igor Krylkov, Sergei Adrianov, Viktor Yermakov, Yurii Lukianov, Lidiia Maiorova and Tatiana Nikitina were first disclosed. Unfortunately, there was nothing about the out-of-work creations of Goznak artists there.

Francs without Freemasons

The list of artists who created sketches for French bills, includes two and a half dozen names. Let’s narrow down to two of them, whose banknotes are as beautiful as Alphonse Mucha’s money-related masterpieces.

Under the belt of the artist François Flameng (1856−1923), there was the decoration of the Sorbonne, Palais de Justice, the Opera Comique and the expensive Blue Train (Le Train Bleu) restaurant, which was visited by Coco Chanel and Salvador Dalí. The artist’s work is not only elegant genre scenes and exquisite female portraits, but also harsh, realistic canvases about the First World War — too realistic, according to critics of this master, who was the honorary president of the Society of Military Painters.

  • Portrait by F. Flameng
  • Portrait by V. Serov
In 1891, Flameng sketched the designs for a 1,000 franc note which would be the first in France to be printed in four colours. However, it was never put into circulation: the Bank’s management was afraid of the accusations that "they created special money for rich people", and the entire stock of notes was destroyed.
The only thing left were sketches, printing plates and clichés, which were used in 1918 when printing a new stock of notes that had a face value of 5,000 francs and were characterized by a more limited colour range. Exchange inflation!
Another interesting "monetary" artist of France is Henri Clément-Serveau (1886 − 1972). He was born 30 years later than Flameng and tried different styles — realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
, post-impressionism
"Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" Gauguin asked when naming his famous painting. Well, the answers were given by the world renowned artists, who once have determined the style. Read more
, cubism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more Cubism (fr. cubisme) is a recognizable art movement that originated at the beginning of the 20th century, and many of its techniques are still in demand. Its distinctive features are the direct use of geometric shapes, a narrow circle of subjects (portraits, still lifes or buildings), deformation, angularity, complete lack of realism. In Cubism, shape is more important than colour. Read more
, and abstract art. Clément Serveau created several murals, many frescoes and paintings for public buildings.
The artist illustrated over a hundred books, sketched designs for 42 stamps and banknotes with a face value of 5, 300 and 1,000 francs. His sketches were also used while creating banknotes of some other counties.

Karbovantsi and hryvnias

The first Ukrainian banknote with a value of 100 karbovanets was issued for the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1917 by Heorhiy Narbut (1886−1920). It is on this banknote that the trident first appeared — an adapted coat of arms of Prince Volodymyr the Great. The inscriptions on the bill were made in 4 languages (Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and Yiddish).
In fact, Narbut was a heraldry buff. Hetman Skoropadskyi approved his sketches of a coat of arms and a state seal.
Narbut is also the author of works for 10-, 100- and 500-hryvnia bills of 1918.
Heorhiy Narbut was also a member of the Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art") society, a brilliant graphic artist and illustrator. This artist is the author of the first Ukrainian stamps, the creator of the Ukrainian font and the wonderful Abetka (Ukrainian alphabet), as well as the designer of the first Ukrainian military uniform.

The designer of the two-hryvnia banknote was Vasyl Krychevsky (1872−1952), who, as they say, "…had a universal talent — was the creator of a new Ukrainian architecture (Ukrainian modern) and an innovative graphic artist." V. Krychevsky was one of the founders of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts, and in 1918 developed projects for the Small and Large State Emblems of Ukraine (and was criticized by Narbut for not knowing the principles of heraldry). For many years, the artist’s name remained in the sidelines, and there were no talks of his art — which might resulted from his forced emigration. Times have changed, and in 2013, the 140th anniversary of the artist’s birth was widely celebrated in the country, and in 2017, the National Art Museum of Ukraine presented a retrospective of Fedir Krychevsky, Vasyl Krychevsky’s brother.
The House of Poltava district council, designed by V. Krychevsky

The lobby of the House of Poltava district council

Vasyl Krychevsky also created a font that is still used on modern Ukrainian coins, and worked as an artist in 12 motion pictures. In 1919, about 300 paintings by the master and his collection of Ukrainian art burned in a fire, and in 1943, during emigration, the suitcases with his works disappeared (some of them ended up in private collections).

The money we have lost

Before the introduction of the euro, Belgium used francs with the faces of three artists: 100 francs — impressionist James Ensor, 500 francs — surrealist René Magritte, 1000 francs — expressionist Constant Permeke.

France: the 100 francs bill featured a portrait of Paul Cézanne, and before him (1980−1995) — Eugène Delacroix.

Norway: 1000 kroner bill — Edvard Munch.

Switzerland: 10 francs — Le Corbusier, 50 francs — Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 100 francs — Alberto Giacometti.

Italy: 50,000 lire — sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 100,000 lire — Caravaggio, 500,000 lire — Raphael.
Artists on active banknotes
Mexico: on both sides of the 500-peso bill are artists. Spouses Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, along with their paintings, "appeared" on money in 2010 — in honor of the Bicentennial of Mexico’s independence.
Georgia introduced 1 Lari banknote with a portrait of Niko Pirosmani, Armenia — 20,000 Dram with a portrait of Martiros Saryan.

And in 2020, the British will get a new 20-pound note. The person whose portrait will be depicted on the bill was chosen by vote. According to a preliminary survey conducted in 2015, among more than 1,000 people, Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887−1976), known for his industrial landscapes with "matchstick men" figures and "sad" portraits, received 21% of the vote. This person is really outstanding: Laurence Stephen Lowry, whose first exhibition was held when the artist was 52, rejected 5 British awards, including a knighthood and the Order of the British Empire
Empire (fr. empire – imperial) is the style of the late classicism in architecture, applied art and painting. It was popular during the first three decades of the 19th century.
It is characterized by the craving for monumentality and greatness: so that it immediately becomes clear to everyone that the emperor’s power is almost limitless! The Empire style arose in France during the reign of Napoleon, later it was replaced by the eclectic art movements currents and then itfound its revival in ... the Soviet Union. Read more
. Nowadays, prices for paintings by this artist consist of more than six digits.

However, at the end of the vote, the news broke that "one of their greatest romantic landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
painters, watercolourists and engravers" William Turner (1775−1851) outplayed the "not Sir" Lowry, and it is his self-portrait and the painting The Fighting Temeraire that will appear on the 20-pound note.

Our art-trip into the "world of cash" gave only a slight insight into the topic of artists and money, a topic, rich in adventures, jokes and serious values.