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.
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.
To promote the show “Backstage at the Opera” at the Musée Grévin, Chéret gives us a bevy of ballerinas so delicately pictured that one can almost feel the air stir with their lively pirouettes. This two-sheet poster, with the dancers approximately life-size, is one of Chéret’s masterpieces.
The Folies Bergère commissioned over 60 posters from Chéret during his prolific career. Here, six diaphanously-clad ballerinas leap across the page, promoting Armand Silvestre’s ballet-pantomime, “Fleur de Lotus.” Reviews from the premier claim that it is a Loïe Fuller-like performance populated with clowns and delicate dancers. There is also mention of a “wondrous machine” which rains diamonds down upon the audience “like tears” from electric lamps (L’Ermitage 1893).
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: $14,000-$17,000 (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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In-gallery viewing October 11 to 26 (daily 11am-6pm)