Jules Cheret – The Father of Modern Poster Art

Jules Cheret is referred to the to the father of the modern poster. He was a French painter who became a master of Belle Epoque poster art. 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 myself with his work, I took myself to the Australian National Library – online, Google Arts and Culture and a number of other terrific resources.

Father of the Modern Poster

He initially considered the possibility of adapting art to general advertising from 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.

Jules Cheret Casino de Paris

In the Casino de Paris I enjoy how he has used black so that the words appear to pop out of the poster. It is similar to a drop shadow effect that one might use in the digital environment. He uses yellow and pastel to create a friendliness and warmth and a sense of fun with his posters. His headings and titles are often outlined in black that creates a sense of hierarchy and contrast with his illustrations.  He uses red for emphasis in many of his posters especially for concerts and plays.

“It takes brains to design a poster if only to know what to leave out.” Lewis Day 

His first piece of note he created in 1867 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.

La Biche au Bois

“So fitted to divert the fancy and to gladden the eye: the free spreading flood of design, the radiance of pomp and colour and the appropriateness of technique.” Roger-Marc

Apprentice Lithographer

Jules Cheret was born in Paris 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 is shortly after completing his apprenticeship as a lithographer that he enrolled in courses at the National School of Design.

Developed Lithographic Technique

He then is 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.

Inspiration for Commercial Art

His success was rapid; it was the creation of commercials posters that gave him his reputation. He became the inspiration for much of the commercial art of the time, book covers, avis de naissance (Birth notices), music titles, invitations and menus.

His used typographic techniques such as tracking and leading and would use San Serif Font styles for his headings. He used serif subheadings that were full and weighty with restrained flourishes.

Vin Marian
Vin Mariani, Chéret’s 1894 poster for the digestif and tonic wine fortified by coca
Flower Festival
Flower Festival at Bagnères-de-Luchon (1890)

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.

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