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What is aeronautical art? History of an unknown art

I have been interested in the art of aeronautics for 15 years. But what is it ? Aeronautical art is any form of art related to aeronautics, either by an artistic representation of the plane and the associated flight or by the integration of the plane or a part of the plane in a artistic work. Thus one could have classified in the first works of art, the first plane plans of Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century or the first drawings relating the exploits of Pilatre des Rosiers rising in the first hot-air balloon. But I am not of that opinion. These pioneering drawings were made for technical or informative purposes that were not really artistic.


For me, the first works of aeronautical art were made by Italian aviators of the First World War. They began to paint their aircraft to relate their exploits. This tradition was quickly taken up by aviators of all wars, in particular the B17 pilots of the Second World War and hunters in Vietnam, who adorned their planes with luscious pin-ups or rabid beasts. How many of these works, however sought after today, have disappeared in airplane boneyards ?


Through wars, the need to relate the exploits of pilots during aerial combat arose from the First World War. An official military painting, often institutionalized by museums or armies, appears and still fascinates many collectors. Each state or army has its list of official painters (recruited by competition) and this unpopular branch still constitutes an important part of aeronautical painting. Here it is the realism or the sense of detail that prevails.


But the art of aeronautics cannot be limited to these faithful representations which inspire me little. In the 1930s with the development of aeronautics but also of art deco, a creative wind will blow. A new form of aeronautical art was born with in particular the creation of sculptures and trophies with slender shapes. It is even found at the front of the most beautiful cars. But this art form is further enhanced by the posters of the expanding airlines. Air France has largely contributed to this creativity by employing many famous poster designers creating a multitude of posters for each destination. These posters are now reissued and widely sought after. This craze continued until the 1960s.


In the 70s, contemporary art is invited inside the cabins. The airlines entrust famous artists with the creation of panels, true works of art unique in the new 747. Contemporary art quickly appears on all the objects on board, in particular on the menus but also by the uniform of the passengers. flight attendants whose outfits are now designed by fashion designers. It was also in the 1970s that agency models were born, some of which are true works of art with unparalleled levels of detail. Let us also quote the ephemeral fashion of pins and key rings in the 60s which will rebound with the fashion of pins in the 2000s.


From the 2000s, aeronautical art was displayed without limit in museums. New artists, whether specialized or not, are integrating airplanes into larger works or using airplanes as a canvas for their art. More trashy works appear such as the painted carcasses of aircraft cemeteries, underwater photography of WWII or more recent wrecks. In the same years, other forms of art developed, such as tattooing or the airplane (vintage or military), remained a popular subject. It is the development of sky-writing where certain gifted pilots use their plane and smoke to draw messages or figures in the sky. Airlines continue to compete in particular through the creativity and poetry of their advertisements and their safety instructions. Let us also quote Air France or ANA whose instructions are true masterpieces. Air France is inspired by the theater, ANA by the No theater and Air New Zealand by the lord of the rings. I also have a fond adoration for street artists who create formidable trompe-l'oeil of airplanes.


The 2000s are also the years of the design and transformation of aeronautical pieces into furniture or works of art. The air intakes of the engines, the flight controls, become coffee tables, desks and other designer furniture. This enthusiasm is so strong today that the major players in the aeronautics market such as Airbus, Lufthansa or Air France have made it a business in their own right. But some pieces, sometimes grandiose, are true works of art. Galleries specializing in aeronautical art no longer hesitate to also offer the design of transformed pieces.


Art and aviation are now closely linked because both remain linked to dreams. The flight of the plane still fascinates the crowds as much as the popular success of airshows shows. Novice or passionate spectators marvel there in the same way they contemplate a work of art. But the art of aeronautics is constantly evolving. One of the paths of evolution will be space art. Already several works of art have been invited into space, starting with the Voyager probe or the drawings of certain Russian cosmonauts, shy at first. But with the advent of satellites, art takes on a new meaning, satellites are decorated and better still, real works of art have been brought on board, some gigantic which are deployed once in space.


The art of aeronautics is therefore a vast field which is gradually expanding which is only waiting for its recognition as a global art. There are other fields of aeronautical art. I will come back to that.


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