Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
of the Belle Epoque
Report of the lecture given by
Charles Harris BSc
May 25th 2011
evening ended with a question from a member, "How come we haven't heard
much of Cheret before?" Many of us were having the same thought. Charles,
who has been involved in Global Advertising for many years and has a "passion
with posters", had described Cheret as putting the "Belle" into
the "Belle Epoque." At 13 Jules Cheret, born in Paris to a family of
poor but creative artisans, was apprenticed to a lithographer and whilst there
he was galvanised into becoming an artiste rather than an artisan. He was to
become "the father of the modern poster."
Rimmel provided him with finance to open his own studio and the construction of
Haussmann's Paris Boulevards created a cafe society and therefore a target
market of clients who could afford to buy and visit, so Cheret's posters became
the mass tool of communication. The image of Fragonard's "Lady on the Swing",
with its spirit of exuberance, had made a real impact on him and in order to
influence the customer to stop and look and not walk on by he used the ideas of
attitude, visual seduction, sexual allure and girl power to great effect in his
posters. Combining these with use of his favourite colours of yellow and blue
his Cycles Humber poster displays instant communication, with his hallmarks of
the joyous and lively movement of the girl on the cycle and lightness of touch
in the design.
many examples of his work "Vin Mariani", an advertisement for French
Tonic Wine, was a particular favourite of ours. We felt that it used a
combination of all of the techniques that we have already mentioned, combined
with an example of his clever use of integrating the writing with the figure.
Perhaps our pleasure in this piece was further enhanced when Charles amused us
by suggesting that maybe the joy on the face of the "Cherette" was due
to the fact that cocaine was present in the product until 1910!
In the common setting of the "Moulin Rouge" nightclub a more
familiar figure now appears in the story. Toulouse-Lautrec greatly admired the
work of Cheret. Different approaches were employed in their posters advertising
the Parisian attraction. Both seemed equally effective in their intention of
luring you to partake of the delights of that particular establishment.
Lautrec's "Confetti" was shown at the first serious poster exhibition
in London in 1894 and there was a realisation that something "Nouveau"
was just around the corner. In Paris Alphonse Mucha fulfilled a sudden and
unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah
Bernhardt. "Gismonda" was posted in the city and the long thin shape
of her figure, with Bernhardt's name depicted in a halo, attracted much
attention. This was to become his distinctive style and we much admired his
clever use of this halo effect in "Bieres" where fruit around the
girl's head must surely indicate that it was a good wholesome product to
Charles took us on a quick dash through some more familiar
posters such as "Bubbles" the Millais advertisement which indicates
trust in the use of Pears Soap and the clever use of language as displayed in
the "Bovril" picture of the Bull's Head with the text "Alas my
As with so many others Theophile Steinlen used the science of the block to
great effect and his posters emphasised strong family values. If you had to take
your dog to the vet surely you would trust the one whose advertisement showed
such great eye contact between the girl and her dog. Steinlen's introduction to
the artistic crowd at "Le Chat Noir" led to his commissions to do
poster art for the cabaret owner.
the many lithographers whose work we had admired through the course of the
lecture Charles summarised the work of Cheret as Spring, Lautrec's as Summer,
Steinlen's as Autumn and Mucha's as Winter but his description of how they had
depicted their women seemed to us to more clearly define their individual
styles. Mucha placed his women on a pedestal, Steinlen's were liberated, Lautrec
was non judgemental in his depiction and Cheret's were starlets.
our knowledge now enhanced, we thank Charles that we can now imagine how it
would feel to float, with Cheret's butterflies, out of his studio window and see
how the Boulevards were transformed into the art galleries of the street by the
wonderful poster makers of the "Belle Epoque."
and Barrie Heathcote