The poster explosion, which overtook Paris in the 1890s, can be traced to one artist – Jules Chéret (1836-1932) – and the printing house where he produced his work, l’Imprimerie Chaix.
By 1895, posters were officially a popular craze. Collectors clamored for special editions, or extra copies that had not yet been defiled by a pasting-up at the hoardings. But there was a problem. Then, as now, the sheer size of a two-sheet extravaganza, designed to attract the eye from a half-block away, proved formidable for home display, storage and transport alike.
L’Imprimerie Chaix had an idea. Chéret himself, master and patriarch of the poster, would curate 4 of the best posters each month. They’d be lithographed in reduced size – more like a broadsheet tabloid, rather than a billboard – and sent to subscribers, who paid 2.50F a month for the pleasure: popular art, designed for the middle class, rather than the elite, delivered to the home – like a digital gift-box service, 110 years ahead of its time.
And what a pleasure! Between 1896 and 1900, subscribers received 240 of the boldest, most brilliant experiments in poster art of the Belle Époque, plus 16 monochrome illustrations as supplements.
Today, the complete set, in five volumes with hardbound covers designed by Paul Berthon (1872-1909), one of Chéret’s finest Maîtres, is a true rarity – and a revelation. The prints are flawless. Their colors: rapturous. Every plate is a marvel of discovery. You’ll recognize several images that are posters in this auction – Realier-Dumas’ Champagne Jules Mumm, Mucha’s Lorenzaccio, Chéret’s own Fête des Fleurs and, of course, Mucha’s Job among others – but also a trove of superb art we rarely encounter, even in our curation of thousands of posters a year. It is justly regarded as one of the most valuable art books ever created.