By The Father of Modern Poster Art
Rare, separately published xylographed and color-lithographed view of the Grand Palais, as it appeared at the time of the third Paris World's Fair, called an Exposition Universelle in 1878.
In this strikingly detailed image, a bird's-eye view allows us to take in the scene: the main palais, center, sits upon the Champ du Mars; at right, across the Seine, is the Trocadero, newly built for this 1878 event. The lithograph was published by and featured in Le Figaro, France's oldest national daily newspaper. This was one of the first works of Chéret's new printing plant. Chéret received a silver medal for work at this fair. He would go on to become regarded as the father of modern poster art.
The buildings and the fairgrounds were somewhat unfinished on opening day, as political complications had prevented the French government from paying much attention to the exhibition until six months before it was due to open. However, efforts made in April were prodigious, and by June 1, a month after the formal opening, the exhibition was finally completed.
This exposition was on a far larger scale than any previously held anywhere in the world. It covered over 66 acres, the main building in the Champ de Mars and the hill of Chaillot, occupying 54 acres. The Gare du Champ de Mars was rebuilt with four tracks to receive rail traffic occasioned by the exposition. The Pont d'Iéna linked the two exhibition sites along the central allée. The French exhibits filled one-half of the entire space, with the remaining exhibition space divided among the other nations of the world.
Over 13 million people paid to attend the exposition, making it a financial success. The total number of persons who visited Paris during the time the exhibition was open was 571,792.
Jules Chéret was a French painter and lithographer who became a master of Belle Époque poster art.
He has been called the father of the modern poster. Cheret was a key figure in the history of poster art, producing more than 1,000 posters.
Born in Paris to a poor but creative family of artisans, at age thirteen, he began a three-year apprenticeship with a lithographer and then his interest in painting led him to take an art course at the École Nationale de Dessin. Like most other fledgling artists, Chéret studied the techniques of various artists, past and present, by visiting Paris museums.
From 1859 to 1866, he was trained in lithography in London, England, where he was strongly influenced by the British approach to poster design and printing. He got his break when perfume manufacturer Eugène Rimmel hired him as a designer. Soon after he started his own lithographic printing firm in Paris, firmly believing that lithography would soon replace his father’s letterpress industry as the premier printing technique.
On returning to France, Chéret created vivid poster ads for the cabarets, music halls, and theaters such as the Eldorado, the Olympia, the Folies Bergère, Théâtre de l'Opéra, the Alcazar d'Été and the Moulin Rouge. He created posters and illustrations for the satirical weekly Le Courrier français.
In 1884 Chéret organized the first group poster exhibition in art history, ushering in an era of these images being accepted—and enthusiastically celebrated—as fine art, and in 1886 he published the first book on poster art. Chéret would also eventually work with printing houses that catered to collectors who wanted poster art for their own.
His works were influenced by the scenes of frivolity depicted in the works of Rococo artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau. So much in demand was he, that he expanded his business to providing advertisements for the plays of touring troupes, municipal festivals, and then for beverages and liquors, perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Eventually he became a major advertising force, adding the railroad companies and a number of manufacturing businesses to his client list.
As his work became more popular and his large posters displaying modestly free-spirited females found a larger audience, pundits began calling him the "father of the women's liberation." Females had previously been depicted in art as prostitutes or puritans. The women of Chéret's posters, joyous, elegant and lively—'Cherettes', as they were popularly called—were neither. It was freeing for the women of Paris, and heralded a noticeably more open atmosphere in Paris where women were able to engage in formerly taboo activities, such as wearing low-cut bodices and smoking in public. These 'Cherettes' were widely seen and recognised, and a writer of the time said "It is difficult to conceive of Paris without its 'Cheréts' (sic)."
In 1895, Chéret created the Maîtres de l'Affiche collection, a significant art publication of smaller sized reproductions featuring the best works of ninety-seven Parisian artists. His success inspired an industry that saw the emergence of a new generation of poster designers and painters such as Charles Gesmar and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of his students was Georges de Feure.
In his old age Chéret retired to the pleasant climate of the French Riviera at Nice. He died in 1932 at the age of ninety-six and was interred in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in the Montmartre quarter of Paris.
He was awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in 1890 for his outstanding contributions to the graphic arts. Although his paintings earned him a certain respect, it was his work creating advertising posters, taken on just to pay his bills but eventually his dedication, for which he is remembered today.
In 1933 he was honoured with a posthumous exhibition of his work at the prestigious Salon d'Automne in Paris. Over the years, Chéret's posters became much sought after by collectors from around the world.