Jules Chéret (1836-1932) was the first master of Belle Époque poster art. After training in lithography in England, he became one of the first champions of new color lithographic methods. Taking after French rococo masters Fragonard and Watteau, frothy visions of young women in frivolity became his signature. He was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1890, and initiated the Maîtres d’Affiche collection in 1895.
In the tradition of the impressionist flaneurs, Chéret attended the dance halls of Montmartre, where the farandole dance proved inspiring to many painters, including Matisse. The lively, follow-the-leader dance involved men and women holding hands while running and skipping along a meandering path. In Chéret’s depiction, the winsome dancers appear out of the blue and pink haze, as if emerging out of a dream. Chéret uses expressive brush strokes to imbue a sense of movement and energy, and employs Impressionistic broken colors to bring the scene to life. Not only are his technical skills here beautiful and impressive—the sheer scale of this painting is a rare and unique specimen from his oeuvre.
As the oldest surviving music hall in Paris, the Olympia was originally opened in 1889 under the name “Montagnes Russes.” While this was also the French word for roller coaster, there is no evidence of there ever being an actual ride in the particularly narrow building. This is the poster from the establishment’s re-opening in 1893, when it was renamed Olympia, a name which stays with it even today. This is the larger format.
A rare, before-letters version of Chéret’s famous “Pastilles Géraudel” poster allows us to concentrate on the generous emotion of the work. The sense of vigor and warmth created by this unusually radiant shade of red (not as lurid as blood, not as tempting as cherry, but as loving as a Christmas present) is ideal for embracing the winter. With letters, the print advertises Pastilles Géraudel, a throat lozenge to vanish wintertime coughs.
This pert young woman with the flower basket might seem an incongruous means of advertising a bookstore. She’s here, representing Ed. Sagot, because Chéret had originally drawn up the design for the department store La Belle Jardinière (The Beautiful Gardener). For whatever reason, management didn’t use the design. Ed. Sagot snapped it up for a bargain price, and used it to advertise his first poster catalogue. In fact, this 5-color poster, folded, came to subscribers with the 112-page catalogue for a total of 10 francs. It’s one of the loveliest of all Chéret posters—a sunny spirited design with the glow of youth and charm.
The ethereal performer Loïe Fuller commissioned and paid for many lithographic posters for her performances, and this one from Chéret lives on in infamy. The editor of “The Poster” wrote in 1899, “With excellent judgement she went to Chéret—Chéret the master of gorgeous and fantastic color—to herald her earlier performances in that metropolis to the gaiety of which his posters have added so materially… In his long career as an affichiste, Chéret has produced nothing more successful than his series of designs for Loïe Fuller” (Loïe Fuller/Current, p. 129).
Est: $17,000-$20,000 (4)
Maindron makes it clear that it was Chéret who invented “placards décoratifs, which are neither prints nor posters, but which contain a bit of both… There is nothing to say about these designs other than that they are perfect” (Maindron, p. 178-79). Abdy calls these four decorative panels “triumphs of color and printing” (Abdy, p. 31). Being freed from having to sell a product, Chéret lets his imagination soar—and these light-footed nymphs representing the Four Arts are the first clear examples of what was to adorn the walls of Paris for the next decade: the unabashedly hedonistic, carefree spirits that became known as “Chérettes.”
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