Belle Époque graphic designer and illustrator Jules Chéret pioneered poster art in the mid- to late1800s when the need for advertising to a growing middle class was booming. With limited education but a wealth of talent, he transformed lithography and elevated the poster to a respected and coveted art form. Most of his vibrantly colorful designs featured beautiful, boldly sensual women at their center. These women at the dawn of female emancipation became known as the Jules Chéret Chérettes.
Jules Chéret captured the optimistic attitude of late-1800s to turn-of-the-century Paris through his designs of more than 1,000 posters. His work reflected emerging female “freedoms” in the rapidly changing Parisian society. The Jules Chéret Chérettes were self-assured, adventurous, athletic and happy. They could dress scantily, dance wildly, smoke and drink publicly, and generally have a good time without judgment. Before him, painters portrayed women either as sexless or as prostitutes with little in between. His positive, liberated images of women fueled the emerging role of women as free beings who could behave as they pleased.
Among his many subjects were famous women including Leona Dare and La Loie Fuller who performed at venues like Moulin Rouge and Folies Berger. His posters undoubtedly enhanced the lucrative careers of the Jules Chéret Chérettes who enjoyed financial independence thanks to this atmosphere of freedom.
While some people call him the “father of women’s liberation”, sadly these newfound female freedoms did not translate widely to professions outside of entertainment.
Posters were nothing new. Graphic announcements had been posted for centuries to inform people about news and events of all types. Developments in the printing industry between the 1840s and 1850s launched placards into a new stratosphere. These new-generation posters offered great opportunities to increase sales of products and services as well as sell tickets to performances, events and the flood of new entertainment venues throughout Paris.
Mass production was also possible and colored lithography enabled designers to catch the eyes of the public passing on busy boulevards. His work became so popular that people often pulled the posters off walls for their home collections. They became the art of the people–the Belle Epoque answer to Instagram or Pinterest.
Parisian born Jules Chéret (1836-1932) was apprenticed to a lithographer when he was thirteen. Three years later he took an art course at the École Nationale de Dessin. From 1859 to 1866 he trained in lithography in London.
On his return to France he opened a small studio in Paris where he innovated lithographic techniques using only three to four stones. His colors were semi-transparent, allowing layers to produce posters of all shades in the color spectrum. He drew directly on the stones, enabling him to integrate text as an artistic element in his designs.
Cheret was hired to advertise everything from aperitifs to bicycles and hat shops to perfume to lamp oil. He was also the first choice of a long list of cabarets and other entertainment venues, festivals and world expositions.
If Albert Lasker is considered the father of modern advertising, it can be argued that Jules Chéret is its grandfather. He reduced text to a minimum for powerful effect. He mastered the art of using his seductively clad Chérettes to sell an emotion–rather than a product, venue or service.
The advertising concepts he pioneered played a crucial role throughout the 1900s and remain with us today.
Considered by many to be the Father of the Modern Poster, he inspired other artists in the emerging art form of poster design. Among them were Toulouse Lautrec, Charles Gesmar and Edward Mucha. Thanks to him, many emerging artists periodically found work in the growing field of advertising to support their less lucrative work as painters.
In 1886 Jules Chéret published the first book on poster art. In 1895 he created the Masters of the Poster (Maîtres de l’Affiche.) This was a collection of reproductions from 97 Parisian artists, printed through his company. The prints were sold in packages of four each month to subscribers.
One art critic of his day remarked that “there was a thousand times more talent in the smallest of Chéret’s posters than in the majority of the pictures on the walls of the Paris Salon.”
He was awarded the Legion d’honneur by the French Government in 1890 for his outstanding contributions to the graphic arts. He retired in Nice in the south of France.The Musée des Beaux-Arts Des Nice was established in his honor in 1928, four years before he died. His work is held in museums including the Louvre and the Salon, both in Paris, France, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
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