Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen was born in Lausanne, Switzerland – and, through a series of coincidences, arrived in 1890s Montmartre just as the going was starting to get wild. His seemingly limitless ability to be befriended by just the right people at just the right time put him in touch with the new owner/cabaret star of the Chat Noir, Aristide Bruant, who commissioned him for a poster for his venue. Steinlen then created the most famous Art Nouveau image the world has ever seen. It’s one of five posters available here.
All the warmth, humanity, and affection for which Steinlen is so loved comes through gloriously in this poster for the newly-marketed “lait stérilisé” that was touted over the “lait ordinaire” at that time. Charles Knowles Bolton, writing a year after its publication, proclaimed that this “is perhaps, the most attractive poster ever made. No man with half a heart could fail to fall in love with the child.” Louis Rhead himself commented: “When I saw it in Paris last year . . . it seemed to me the best and brightest form of advertising that had appeared.” This is the medium format version, and possesses strikingly fresh colors compared to other copies we have seen.
One of the world’s most famous posters, and an icon of Art Nouveau, Steinlen’s “Chat Noir” plays on some of Mucha’s signature flairs – the cat’s halo, the curve of the tail redolent of Mucha-maidens’ tousled hair – to create an indelible symbol at once wicked, subversive, seductive, and silly. The text here promotes the opening tour of the Chat Noir’s resident performers, boasting a “highly illustrious troupe” presenting shadow plays, poetry readings, and songs. Incredibly popular when first unveiled to the public, the basic image was worked into a number of different formats and text arrangements. This represents the initial printing of the “Prochainement” poster; later, after Rodolphe Salis fell ill and was unable to perform with the company, the “avec” preceding his name was replaced with “de,” both as a tip-on and in a new edition of the poster. This is the smaller format.
“Quite a few literary works of this era first saw the light of day as installments printed in daily or weekly papers . . . The lure of a new sensational novel was often used to advertise the paper itself. And sensational is the word for this poster advertising installments of ‘White Slavery.’ It depicts a heartless pimp with three of his victims. One is arguing passionately for her freedom, one seems resigned to her fate, and one in utter despair. In Steinlen’s original version, the willing prostitute had her breasts bared, but there was an adverse reaction to the poster, and this censored version was hastily substituted” (Gold, p. 66). This is the large format, censored version without top text panel.
There is no consensus as to what Steinlen’s highly-regarded “Mothu et Doria” is actually trying to portray. A singing duo in Aristide Bruant’s social-realist mode? A stage drama? Is it a moment of socioeconomic conflict or comity? All we really know is this: a gentleman, likely returning from the Opera, proffers a cigar so that a raffish gentleman with sunken cheeks can light his own cigarette, in the foggy gaslight of a Parisian night. Its ambiguity alone defines it as a superb work of art.
A rare Steinlen travel poster for a resort in the Eastern Pyrénées, complete with a full description of available amenities. A slightly smaller version of this design also exists, printed by Roustan rather than Ancourt, with train schedule information added in at the bottom (see PAI-XX, 441). This is a two-sheet poster.