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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jules Chéret

Image 1: Poster for opera by Offenbach.
The father of the poster

Jules Chéret was born in 1836 in Paris, France, to a family of artisans with little money. Age 13, his family could no longer afford to keep him in school, so he became an apprentice to a lithographer, and his interest in art was awakened. He spent days visiting the big art museums in Paris, where he let himself be inspired by the old masters, such as Rubens and Watteau (Les Arts Décoratifs, 2009). He was lucky enough to get a course at the Ecole Nationale de Dessin, but that was the limit of his formal artistic education. In 1854 he went to London to find a way to make a living out of being an artist, and here he discovered Turner's landscape paintings, another great inspiration. Unfortunately for Chéret, he didn't manage to earn much in London. His first big order was a poster for Offenbach, but it didn't lead, as he had hoped, to any more orders.

In 1866, he returns to Paris, and with help from Rimmel, the perfumer, he set up his own printing firm. This was the beginning of a very creatively busy period for him. His works became so popular, he had to hire four artists to help him out with all the orders. By 1900, they had produced over 1000 posters.

Image 2: Poster by Chéret
Chéret was not only a great artist, he also played, through his art, an important role in liberating the women of Paris. In most of his posters, you see happy, dancing and smiling women. These women are not portrayed as prostitutes or in otherwise degrading roles, they are clearly enjoying themselves, and seem to invite the audience to come and enjoy life with them. I see it as when you've experienced something too great not to share, and you invite others to come have the same experience with you. So, what he did, was to make these women equal to the customers of whatever business the poster was advertising for. These women became known as "Cherettes", and actually, it became more acceptable for women to wear low-cut corsets and smoke in public, because that was no longer acting like a hore, but being a Cherette, almost a walking piece of art.

In 1926, Chéret said in an interview that he could still distinguish the shapes of the azaleas in the garden as the sun went down (Lanthony, 2009, p. 169), but he soon turned completely blind, and died in 1932, age 96.

Clear communication

Chéret created a whole new style in posters. He took away most of the text, that had so far been covering many posters, and made the illustration communicate the message. This way, his posters are easily understandable, even for those who can't read. The irony here, is that he only took on poster jobs to pay the bills, while really wanting to be a fine artist. It's hard not to  compare Chéret with Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec found a lot of his inspiration in Chéret works, and their visual style is very much alike. However, I think that Chéret has a much more "commercial" look to his posters. It's like I don't really feel connected to the people he prints, because they're all just happy-happy and it almost seems fake. I see it like they might as well have worn masks. Unlike Lautrec, Chéret uses the people on the posters to advertise a place, whereas Lautrec advertises the people themselves, who then just happen to be performing at for instance the Moulin Rouge.

Why I don't like Chéret

According to, "His dancers came to life, these Cherettes, light-footed, hedonistic nymphs beckoned you to come and share a night of frolic and fun at any one of a number of cabarets and theaters (...)" (2004, my italics). I can see what they mean, I really do agree that the ladies are all very attractive, but they're the kind of girls you wouldn't expect to say anything clever. So "came to life" I think is an overstatement. To me, they're more like Barbie dolls, set up in interesting positions.

All of the women portrayed in the examples I put in this blog, don't have real faces. I don't really care about them, because I see them like I would see a mannequin doll in H&M's window. They can be very pretty and decorative, but if they suddenly lose one arm, I really couldn't care less. Same thing with Chéret's women. Beautiful, but boring. Braindead models. Well, that's an exaggeration, but I'm not joking 100%.

Image 3: Part of painting by Chéret

Take this painting as an example that this also applies to some of his non commercial works. It's a very nice situation, but when I look at it, I don't imagine myself hiding behind a tree all day to enjoy the view of these pretty ladies and their spoiled kids. I imagine myself passing by on my bike thinking that this looks like the high point of their week, spending all their lives being bored at home. Really, it's not even the baby's mother playing with it. She looks more like a nurse, and the poor kid is reaching towards mama, who's busy looking ever so lovely. Yes, I'm annoyed. Again, the women are used as decorative objects, and not as individuals with each their interesting life story.

Image 4: Théâtrophone poster by Chéret

The woman in the "Theatrophone" poster at least has eye contact with the audience, but still I get the feeling that she has been standing in this position for too long, and she's only modeling, not acting her role out as she should. In other words, I don't get the feeling that she was actually paying any kind of attention to the play going on via this theatrophone, and I also don't believe that she just happened to look up and was then surprised to see someone she already knew. She's just standing where she's been told to stand, and that's that. Easy work. Or maybe Chéret just didn't catch her soul when he made the poster, who am I to tell.

Image 5: Yet another uninteresting woman by Chéret
With that said, I have to add that I see the point in not distracting the audience with a too interesting person, when it's really a product you're supposed to sell. And I think that this way of thinking is used a lot in today's advertising. The person is there to draw your attention to whichever product as the centre of the ad. I'm not sure I think Chéret really catches my attention the right way. I admire and envy him for his technical skills, but his choice of motives really annoy me.

 Reference list:

Les Arts Décoratifs (2009) Jules Chéret 1836-1932. Available at: (Accessed: 22 November 2010)

Lanthony, P. (2009) Art & Ophthalmology: The Impact of Eye Diseases on Painters. Paraguay: Wayenborgh Publications. (2004) Jules Cheret's Revolution of Color. Available at: (Accessed: 22 November 2010)

Image list:

Image 1: Chéret, J. (1886) Poster advertising the opera"La Vie Parisienne" by Offenbach [Poster] Jules Cheret - The Complete Works [Online]. Available at:,-an-operetta-by-Jacques-Offenbach-%281819-90%29-1886.html (Accessed: 22 November 2010)

Image 2: Chéret, J. (na) Palais de Glace. [Poster] Jules Cheret - The Complete Works [Online]. Available at:,-Champs-Elysees-large.html (Accessed: 22 November 2010)

Image 3: Chéret, J. (na) Idylle Champêtre. [Oil on canvas] Jules Chéret: paintings, drawings, posters from the collection of Baron Joseph Vitta [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 22 November 2010)

Image 4: Chéret, J. (1896) Théâtrophone. [Poster] Jules Cheret - The Complete Works [Online]. Available at:

Image 5: Chéret, J. (na) Saxoléine. [Poster] Jules Cheret - The Complete Works [Online]. Available at:,-safety-lamp-oil-large.html


Doordan, D. (2000) Design History: An Anthology. 2nd edition. Cambrigde, Massachusetts: the MIT press.

1 comment:

  1. Image #3 is the missing link between Watteau and Thomas Kinkaide.