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.
One of the featured troupers at L’Horloge was one Major Burk, a performer who seemingly specialized in a martial balancing act of sorts. Sadly, apart from the fact that his real name was John Burcke, no information regarding his performance could be uncovered. However, Chéret’s dramatic rendering—a design comprised of two parts military heroism and one part hucksterism—provides us with a graphic snapshot of Burk in action. Rare!
On the last Saturday evening in January, 1892, the Théâtre National de l’Opéra sponsored a masked ball. The focus of Chéret’s announcement poster is an exhilarated couple—he in full-tilt boogie, she perched precariously on the balcony (the better to see and be seen, my dear). The event proved to be understandably popular, and the theatre repeated it twice more in February and then again in March, using this same image all four times.
This is the original signed pastel drawing of Chéret’s personification of Dance for his celebrated series of decorative panels, Les Arts.
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 judgment 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).
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.
It may be snowing, but this heavily bundled Chérette is prancing down the street as if it were spring. She has wisely chosen Pastilles Géraudel to fend off the first signs of a winter cold. As the slogan says, “If you cough, take Géraudel Pastilles”—a tag line which appeared on all of the company’s ads from France to China. “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).
A Chérette and a Pierrot are a perfect duo for Chéret, who often depicted the two dancing, lounging, and yes, picnicking. Here, the couple is joined by another female friend and three adorable children. The hand-signed dedication is dated June 30, 1914.