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« Pauline Turns 90 | Main | People Pix -- France, 2009 »

June 13, 2009

Cherettes -- Postered, Painted and Pasteled

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

For the past century or thereabouts, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec has been the Parisian poster artist most remembered by the public at large and most art followers as well.

Poster art fans won't deny Lautrec's place in that field any more than they would that of Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. But they'll likely make the point that they guy who really invented the modern poster was Jules Chéret (1836-1932).


He's the tall fellow in the doctored photo above (the original was monochrome, of course, but someone tipped in a color rendition of the Chéret poster in the original, and that's what seems to be at the top of Google image searches). The little man is you-know-who.

The Wikipedia biography of Chéret is here. Another site you might want to visit is here.

As the linked biographical material indicates, Chéret's posters featured lively girls who became popularly known as "Cherettes". If you happen to view a large number of Cherette posters (and Chéret turned out hundreds of them), they become somewhat monotonous. But that's often the case of you see a collection of any artist's work in a gallery, museum or book. Artists have this strange tendency to create lots of what sells, after all. Besides, posters and paintings are usually intended to be seen in isolation and not as part of a collection.

Another consideration about Chéret is that, while advances in lithographic technology made his posters possible in the first place, the results seem crude by today's standards.

So just how good might his poster art have been absent technological limitations?

Really good.

I discovered that while visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nice (its title sometimes includes the words "Jules Chéret" following the main name). Its web site is here; only the French sub-link seems to work, and no works are shown.

It seems that Chéret did a lot of pastel work that included studies for posters, and these can be found amongst the displays in a room the museum devotes to him. Also included are some oils and pastel portraits.

Not a lot of this can be found on the Web, but I snitched a few to illustrate what I just mentioned.


Let's start with a poster to set the stage and get you in the proper mood. It's for the Folies Bergère featuring one of its stars and not an anonymous Cherette.

This is a poster version of a work titled "La Musique" ...

... and this is a pastel version, probably a study for the former. In person it has depth and a vibrancy the poster lacks -- though this distinction isn't so easy to make when viewing digital images as you are now. Yes, it features a Cherette.

Here is another pastel. It doesn't seem to be a poster study, but I might be wrong about that.

Here is a pastel portrait of Arlette Dorgère (1904). My museum book on Chéret indicates that she "inspira pleusiers fois Chéret, pour des tableaux et même des affiches".

This one's a bit of a mystery. I have no information on its title or medium. It might be part of a mural or perhaps a study for one. Chéret fans feel free to set me straight in Comments.

Here is a Chéret mural, and again I lack information. These were usually done in oil and featured many figures traipsing beyond control of gravity (though the mural in the Nice museum --not shown because I couldn't find an image -- has a more earth-bound setting). A somewhat younger artist, Adolphe-Léon Willette (1857-1926) sometimes painted similar scenes.

Obviously Chéret didn't trouble to do profound works of art. He was a competent artist who was to a considerable extent self-taught and on-the-job trained. Moreover, he was widely recognized during his lifetime and enjoyed financial success. There's nothing necessarily wrong with any of that, so far as I am concerned.

Chéret's art is fun and I enjoy seeing it.



posted by Donald at June 13, 2009


Part of "the great cause of cheering us all up": thank you, D.

Posted by: dearieme on June 14, 2009 8:36 AM

"Another consideration about Chéret is that, while advances in lithographic technology made his posters possible in the first place, the results seem crude by today's standards."

Honestly, I don't think this is even really the case -- I think you still see people turning stuff in, in this sort of "retro" style, with flat colouration or simple gradients, etc.

The ones that really come off as crude and dated, to me, are the ones by Tolouse-Lautrec himself. Even though they're supposed to be of superior artistic merit, the composition is generally kind of crude. For example, if you look at the Moulin-Rouge poster "La Goulue," there's that dark, shadowed gentleman in the foreground. He's just sort of randomly there. And what the hell is he supposed to be doing with his hands? It's like Tolouse Lautrec drew the background, decided he might as well stick something dark in the foreground, and ran out of paper before he could get to the lower hand. All the linework is crude and imprecise. The line weights (the way they are sometimes thick and sometimes thin) serve no purpose in particular, and smack of poor technique. Look also at the wrinkling of the jacket -- the artist has clearly attempted to draw the pattern of folds from memory, but has never done the basic work of observing and practicing drapery, and the result is almost embarassing to look at, when one sees prints in museums.

Cheret, in contrast, has excellent linework, and the dynamics and weights of the lines do an excellent job of conveying the form and body of whatever he is depicting (generally a nubile young girl). His clothing/drapery is generally stylised (I don't think he was working from models or even photographs for most of his posters), but the stylisation is "true to life" in some sense -- it is recognizable as drapery. His work is a pleasure to look at, and one can learn technique from it.

Posted by: Taeyoung on June 14, 2009 7:13 PM

Cheret was clearly a giant. Many tks for the introduction.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 16, 2009 1:45 AM

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