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.
Emilienne d’Alençon was one of the most desirable women of the Belle Epoque; together with the famous courtesans Liane de Pougy and La Belle Otero, they became known as the Grand Trois. Though d’Alençon studied acting at the Conservatoire for a relatively brief period of time, she became a sensation for an act that she developed at the Cirque d’Eté and later reprised at the Folies Bergère to great acclaim—and which was advertised by this Chéret poster, no less. Knowing (as all fashionable women do) that accessorizing is everything, d’Alençon dressed completely in pink—frothy taffeta with lace trimming, to be exact. The writer Jean Lorrain described her as “Raspberry Ice.” To complete her ensemble and act, she had a collection of performing rabbits that she dyed a particularly shocking shade of pink and topped off with ruffles.
Between 1893 and 1900, Chéret created a multitude of captivating designs for the Palais de Glace, a large skating rink located on the Champs-Elysées. Here, the brightly-dressed beauty, complete with fur stole, balances daintily on one foot as her partner glides her around the ice. This is the Courrier Français supplement from March 1, 1896.
In this larger-than-life two-sheet poster, Chéret displays all the charms of a confident blond skater whizzing by the viewer. Behind her, a male admirer hopes to catch up.
“This is one of the most striking examples of the work by Jules Chéret… The clarity of the color is astonishing and denotes the influence of Impressionist painting” (Health Posters, p. 14). This is the Courrier Français version of the design.
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 reopening in 1893, when it was renamed Olympia, a name which stays with it even today. This is the larger format.
This is one of at least two designs Chéret created for Loïe Fuller; here, he idyllically captures her exceptionally modern dance routine on paper. In her act, she would wave reams of diaphanous fabric around her body, dozens of colored lights flashing upon her as she moved. She was considered the perfect blend of human and machine, so much so that many art historians mark the beginning of the Modern period with her first performance.
The Spanish pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris featured an exhibit of Andalusian art from the time of the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula. “The Moors were Islamic invaders from Africa who entered Spain around the year 700, remaining in power until they were decisively beaten at Granada in 1492. Chéret must have felt this winsome Spanish dancer would be more appealing than an illustrated history lesson” (Gold, p. 128).
In-gallery viewing February 7-22 (daily 11am-6pm)