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LES CRIST PARIS
THE BILL-STICKER. BY BOUCHARDON, 1742.
THE PICTORIAL POSTER.
F"Post no Bills" were the universal law nowadays, those of us who have the good fortune to live in Paris or in New York would be deprived of one of the most interesting manifestations of modern decorative art. Perhaps it is not wholly
unfair to suggest that this nineteenth century of ours is a day of little things, and that our silverware, our pottery, our tiles, our wall-paper, our woodcuts, our book-covers, each in its kind, and when it is at its best, are better than our historic painting, our heroic sculpture, or our grandiose architecture. The minor arts have their place in the hierarchy of the beautiful; and more often than we are willing to acknowledge, they have a charm of their own and a value likely to be as lasting as those of their more pretentious elder sisters. The idyls of Theocritus and the figurines from Tanagra -are these so tiny that we can afford to despise them?
We are all of us prone to underestimate the value of contemporary labor when it is bestowed on common things. Often we fail altogether to see the originality, the elegance, the freshness, -in a word, the art,-of the men who are making the things which encompass us roundabout. Possibly the Greek did not consider the beauty of the vase he used daily, the form of which is a pure joy to us; and probably
the Oriental worker at the loom cannot guess the pleasure we shall take in his subtle commingling of color in the wools of the rug he is weaving. So it is small wonder that the pictorial posters which adorn our blank walls pass unperceived, and that we do not care to observe the skill which has gone to their making. Yet the recent development of the pictorial poster in France and in America is worthy of careful consideration by all who take note of the artistic currents of our time.
BOUTET DE MONVEL. From collection of George B. De Forest. (211⁄2 x 29 inches.)
This development has not passed wholly without notice. In 1886 M. Ernest Maindron published in Paris a sumptuously illustrated volume, "Les Affiches Illustrées," in which the history of outdoor advertising among the Greeks and the Romans and the modern French is set forth with the aid of colored engravings. Then there was an exhibition at Nantes in 1889, and one at the Grolier Club here in New York in 1890. Next there was held a special exhibition in 1890 at the gallery of the Théâtre d'Application in Paris, devoted entirely to the extraordinary posters of M. Jules Chéret; and in M. Henri Beraldi's "Graveurs Français du XIXème Siècle," M. Chéret's works were carefully catalogued. Finally, in the fall of 1891, M. Edmond Sagot, a Parisian dealer in prints, issued a priced catalogue of pictorial posters, prepared with conscientious care and serving as an iconography of the art in France. Also to be noted are articles in M. Octave Uzanne's "Livre Moderne" for April and May, 1891, as well as essays on M. Chéret in the "Certains" of M. Huysmans and in the "Figures de Cire" of M.
Hugues Le Roux. A consideration of these scattered publications will lead one to the belief that the pictorial poster, however humble its position, has its place in the temple of art, just as the shop-card has when it is designed by William Hogarth, or the book-plate when it is devised by Albert Dürer.
M. Sagot's priced catalogue is very far from being complete, but it contains more than two thousand numbers, and nearly all these are from Parisian presses. Among the French artists of this century who have designed posters, usually lithographed and mainly placards for the publishers of books or of operas, are the Devérias, Celestin Nanteuil, Tony Johannot, Raffet, Gavarni, Daumier, Cham, Edouard de Beaumont, Viollet-le-Duc, Gustave Doré, Grévin, Manet, and De Neuville; and among contemporary French artists who now and again have made unexpected essays in this department of their craft are M. Vierge, M. Vibert, M. Clairin, M. Boutet de Monvel, M. Regamey, M. Robida, and the Franco-Russian man of genius who calls himself Caran d'Ache. Few of
don" and for his edition of the "Wandering Jew." But for the most part the posters of the painters I have named are muddled and ineffective; they lack the solid simplicity of motive which is the essential of a good advertisement; they are without the bold vigor of design which the poster demands; and they are without the compression and relief of lettering which it requires. These are qualities which the ordinary artist, not seeking, has not achieved, perhaps because he half despised his task. These are the qualities which no one could fail to find in the work of the masters of the poster in France, M. Jules Chéret, M. Willette, M. Grasset. In their advertisements we discover a perfect understanding of the conditions of this form of pictorial art. The first condition is that the poster shall attract attention at all costs; and the second is that it shall satisfy the eye at all hazards. Thus we see that the poster may be noisy,and noisy it often is, no doubt,- but it must not be violent, just as even a brass band ought ever to play in tune.
In the little group of Frenchmen who are developing the possibilities of a new art, the supremacy of M. Jules Chéret is indisputable. He is the pioneer, and he is also the man of the most marked originality. His is the hand which has covered the walls of Paris with lightly clad female figures, floating in space, and smiling with an explosive joy. He it is who has evoked the fantastic and provocative damsels of the most brilliant gaiety, who invite you to the Red Mill and the Russian Mountains and the other places in Paris where Terpsichore is free and easy. The radiant freshness of these flower-like beauties, and the airy ease of their startling costume, carry us back to Boucher and Moreau. As M. Armand Silvestre has said, "The French taste of Fragonard and of Watteau here lives again in a conception of woman quite as elegant, and quite as deliciously sensual." That the best of M. Chéret's flying nymphs are delicious is beyond question, but that the most of them are sensual, in the lower meaning of the word, I take leave to deny. Gallic bacchantes as many of them seem, they are never lewd, and one might venture to say that they are never without a decorum of their own: they are not immoral, like so many of the delicate indelicacies of Grévin, for example.
M. Chéret is a Frenchman who was brought up as a lithographer. When he was only a lad he went to London, and began to design and put on stone show-cards for Mr. Rimmel, the perfumer. It was Mr. Rimmel's capital which backed him when he returned to Paris nearly a quarter of a century ago, with the intention of producing a new kind of pictorial advertisement. Almost his first attempt was a poster
Some of the keenest critics of Paris have joined in praise of M. Chéret's pictures, though they were merely decorative sketches, doomed to destruction by the first rainstorm, and produced to the order of any chance advertiser who had wares to vend. Some of the most prominent writers on the Parisian newspapers have thanked M. Chéret that he has enlivened the dull gray walls of Paris by lightly draped and merrily dancing figures, giving a suggestion of life and warmth to the wintry streets of the French capital.
These aërial bodies, with their diaphanous drapery and their swift movement, suggest the figures frescoed on the walls of Pompeii; and M. Chéret is not without his share of the Latin ease and verve which forever fixed these Pompeian girls as a joy to the world. He has also the bold stroke of the Japanese artist, and he has, moreover, the Japanese faculty of suppressing needless details: for there is never any niggling, any finicky cross-hatching, any uncertainty, in M. Chéret's work. He is an impressionist in one sense of the word-an impressionist who has a masterly command of line and an absolute control of color, and who uses these to make you perceive what has impressed him. The figure he sketches may be as saucy as you please, but there is no slouch about the composition. To describe his work adequately we must needs, as M. Henry Lavedan suggested, borrow from this decorator certain of his own colors, a lemon-yellow, and a geranium-red, and a midnight blue; and even then we should lack the cunning of the artist so to juxtapose these as to reproduce his effects. Almost equally difficult is it to reproduce in a magazine what is most representative in M. Chéret's work; for above all else is he a colorist, and the attempt to translate his work into the
NOUV AFFICHES ARTISTIQUES G.DE MALMERBE MACELLOT - DES CHAMPS 54
for the Porte Saint Martin fairy play, the
monochrome of typography is little less than a betrayal. The compact and skilful composition can be shown, and the force of the drawings; but the effort to transfer the charm of the color is foredoomed to failure.
posters, the masterly composition which advertised the striking pantomime of MM. Carré and Wormser, "L'Enfant Prodigue." M. Willette has made a specialty of Pierrot; and indeed the revival of interest in that French type of pantomimic personage is due partly to his pencil, so that it would have been out of keeping had any one but he prepared the poster for the play of which the prodigal Pierrot was the hero.
In his earlier posters M. Chéret turned to advantage the old lithographic device of shading off the color of the background stone so that, for example, it might print at once the dark blue of the sky at the top and the dark brown of the foreground at the bottom. Of this sort are the posters for Hervé's "Petit Faust," for Miss Lydia Thompson's "Faust," and for the Valentino dance-hall, all reproduced in M. Maindron's book. Later came posters in which this gradation of tint was abandoned in favor of a sharp contrast of color, with the legend aggressively detached in white on the chromatic background. Of this sort are the "Tertullia, Café Spectacle," the "Concert des Ambassadeurs, Fête des Mitrons," and the incomparably vivid and vigorous poster for M. Robida's "Rabelais"; and these also may be found in M. Maindron's invaluable volume. Of this sort also is the advertisement of "Les Trois Mousquetaires" reproduced herewith. Since the appearance of M. Maindron's monograph, M. Chéret has developed a third style by simplifying his palette; with an artful combination of red and yellow and blue, he achieves a chromatic harmony which is the despair of the engraver who must confine himself perforce to black and white. Of this sort are the "Coulisses de l'Opéra" done for the Musée Grévin, the flamboyant figure which served to advertise the print-shop of M. Sagot, and the dream of happy children who got their toys at the Louvre last Christmas.
M. Chéret's methods are all his own, and it would be madness for any hand less skilful than his to attempt to utilize them. Fortunately, therefore, he has not been imitated by M. Willette or by M. Grasset, the two contemporary French artists who come closest to him. M. Willette indeed confines himself wholly to monochrome, to the single impression of black ink on white paper; and it is therefore easy to reproduce here one of his most characteristic
From collection of Richard Hoe Lawrence. (33 x 49 inches.)
M. Grasset is a colorist, as M. Chéret is, but he is more complex in his style, and he prefers a Byzantine richness, as in his "Jeanne Darc." He put on paper a superbly vigorous cavalier trumpeting forth the "Fêtes de Paris"; and he has lately prepared a soft and gentle poster on the "Sud de France," enticing the chilly Parisian to the land of the olive and myrtle. So subdued and languorous is the color-scheme of this last piece that its charm is almost as difficult to render in black and white as is the fascination of M. Chéret's riot