Jules Chéret

(1836-1832) French poster designer and illustrator

Trained as a chromolithographer in London during the 1860s, Jules Chéret returned to his native Paris and set up his own lithography studio (financed by perfume manufacturer Eugène Rimmel, a savvy customer) producing posters and advertisements for an eager clientele. He used a spot-color approach to designing images and lettering, using established techniques of vulgaire chromo (as chromolithography was first known in French). But Chéret’s compositions–distributed across three or four litho stones and printed one color at a time–gave each color interesting work to do, forsaking tinted key drawings in black for more saturated palettes and two-dimensional immediacy. Chéret’s work was brighter and franker than what preceded it, and influenced emerging commercial print design in Europe and America. In addition to his acclaim, then and now, as a graphic artist par excellence, he should be seen as a gifted early ad man. He sold biscuits, bicycles, kerosene, theater tickets, and a great deal more, inventing his own modern idiom of word-and-image in the process, stoking consumer desires in Le Belle Epoque Paris. Chéret’s most influential work was produced in the 1880s and 90s.

Jules Chéret, Folies Bergere: Loïe Fuller, advertising poster, 1897

In 1895 Chéret launched a venture to attract and cultivate collectors, the Maîtres de l’Affiche, stocking it with smaller-size versions of posters by various French poster designers, including a few Americans to boot–notably Maxfield Parrish.

Chéret and his protegées and colleagues in Paris poster design created a dramatic and flexible approach to spot-color printing, exploiting word-image relationships through the plasticity of hand-drawn lithography, well before photomechanical halftones could manage anything like it, or at anything near the scale.

Jules Chéret, Pippermint, advertising poster, 1899.

Chéret, Pippermint, 1899, detail. Click to enlarge. Note the control of value through modulation of tone on the stone using a grease crayon. This shows the autographic qualities of hand-lithography, through which the surface of the finely-ground stone provides a natural “dot pattern” that halftones would be used to mimic, photomechanically.

Jules Chéret, Pantomimes Lumineuses, advertising poster for early motion picture screening, 1898.

Jules Chéret, Folies Bergere: Les Hanion-Lees, advertising poster, 1878. This project, earlier in Chértet’s career, does not show the same atmospheric handling of color and light visible in the posters above, but manages nice modulation of value between the manic, highly-saturated central character and the figures behind him. Also nice use of negative form, notably the puff of locomotive smoke that crosses over his lower leg. Spatially quite sophisticated.

Doug DowdComment