Jules Cheret is referred to as the father of the modern poster. He was a French painter who became a master of Belle Epoque poster art. Over the course of his long life, Cheret produced more than 1000 posters. His posters were light, cheerful oils and his pastels were upbeat and positive. His extravagantly colourful designs were used to regularly promote upcoming theatre productions, generated a devoted following and turned him into a household name.
I was recently browsing through one of my favourite graphic design books, “100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design”. Idea No.10 is Female Archetypes, and her development as an idea is attributed to Jules Cheret. In an effort to further acquaint me with his work, I took myself to the Australian National Library – online, Google Arts and Culture and several other terrific resources.
Father of the Modern Poster
He initially considered possibly adapting art to general advertising by studying circus pictures. Cheret was first in his field, and there is a general consensus he developed this advertising medium. It is this sense of visual communication in his work that dominated his commercial work.
In the Casino de Paris, I enjoy how he used black so that the words appear to pop out of the poster. It is similar to a drop shadow effect used in the digital environment. He uses yellow and pastel to create friendliness and warmth, and a sense of fun with his posters. His headings and titles are often outlined in black, which creates a sense of hierarchy and contrast with his illustrations. He emphasises red in many of his posters, especially for concerts and plays.
His first piece of note he created in 1867 was a poster advertising “La Biche au Bois” (The Doe in the Wood) a fairy play. The printing style is very similar to the U.S Dollar Bill.
Jules Cheret was born in Paris on May 31, 1836, into a family of artisans. His father was a typographer. At 13, he became an apprentice lithographer, but he was already interested in painting by regularly going to the Louvre to admire Rubens Fragonard and Watteau. It was shortly after completing his apprenticeship as a lithographer that he enrolled in courses at the National School of Design.
Developed Lithographic Technique
He was then employed as a designer and created lithographic labels for brochures and book covers. He left France for England in 1856 to learn new methods and techniques of colour lithography. He designed and printed notices for a popular London perfumer.
Back in Paris in 1866, he created his printing press to produce posters illustrated in colour. His posters were full of grace and gaiety and soon covered the walls of late nineteenth-century Paris.
An Inspiration for Commercial Art
His success was rapid; it was the creation of commercial posters that gave him his reputation. He inspired much of the commercial art of the time, book covers, avis de naissance (Birth notices), music titles, invitations and menus.
In 1881, he sold his business and became artistic director of the Imprimerie Chaix, allowing him to devote himself more to his creative work: posters, drawings, and gouache-styled paintings.
A Study in Patience
His posters were unrushed, and their final state is the result of his ideas scratched in a scrawl, not unlike the mock-up process of a modern graphic designer. His ‘mock-ups’ used fusain, pencil, chalk, gouache and watercolours, and often he painstakingly created a version in each medium.
In 1889 he held his first exhibition and received a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle. He did not like the commercial spirit of fairs and exhibitions. His work as a painter and artist is not as widely known as his poster art.
Prints | Jules Cheret
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