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Imprimerie Cheret: A New Era

Photo: Sarah Bernhardt
In 1866, Cheret returned to Paris to open his own print shop, fresh upon the success he enjoyed during his travels to England, and his mind brimming with ideas. With the financial assistance provided by Rimmel, Imprimerie J. Cheret was destined the change the world of art forever. In 1867, Cheret's print shop produced it's first poster. It depicted Sarah Bernhardt as Princess Desireé in the comedy La Biche au Bois, for Bal Valentino. The age of the artistic commercial poster was born.

Chéret appropriated the large dimensions and incorporated the traditions of the great European artists (such as floating compositions) to produce posters for theater revues, circuses and cafe concerts. Chéret produced more than 1,000 posters in his career, and his handling of color, use of black outlines and free-hand lettering influenced others including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

In 1881. Cheret's print shop had become a very successful business. However, he yielded his venture to Imprimerie Chaix , with the stipulation that the artistic direction be preserved. As part of the deal, he was appointed the position of Chaix's Artistic Director. His workshop printed the works of some of the most notable poster artists of the time, including Rene Péan, Lucien Lefèvre, Lucien Baylac, and George Meunier.

Saxoléine, 1892
Poster for the lamp oil company. Printed by Chaix, Paris.


Cheret became known for his popular bright orange, blue and green music hall posters. He realized a poster did not have to show product; it merely had to produce "a reaction of amusement, curiosity, excitement or some positive feeling which will help make the right points,'' as Harold Hutchinson writes in "The Poster: An Illustrated History From 1860'' (Viking). Hutchinson notes that by 1880 Cheret was so good at his craft that a Paris art critic wrote, ``there was a thousand times more talent in the smallest of Cheret's posters than in the majority of the pictures on the walls of the Paris Salon.''

A century ago, Barclay said, "every wall in Paris was rented out for posters, so the government had to pass a law restricting bill posting to specific areas.''

In 1881, a law was passed which created official "posting places", and an entire industry was created. Every poster required a tax stamp to indicate that a fee had been paid for the right to post it. Based on square footage, the tax led to the adoption of standard sizes. Advertisers worked with artists, printers and posting companies to create, post and maintain the poster on the street.

Les Guides Conty

Cheret almost single handedly turned Paris into the "picture gallery of the street." In 1895, Charles Hiatt wrote:

"Paris, without its Chérets, would be without one of its most pronounced characteristics. Chéret’s posters greet one joyously as one passes every hoarding, smile at one from the walls of every cafe, arrest one before the windows of every kiosk."

Cheret’s theatrical and airy style recalled Tiepolo and Watteau, representing a late but highly visible example of the Rococo Revival in France. His charming maidens became so pervasive that the Parisians nicknamed them "Cherettes."


174 Rue St. Denis

In 1904, a writer characterized Cheret's legacy in an article published in Figaro Illustre:

"...this sweet man, this dear fulfiller of dreams [who] has caused a revolution all by himself. He has changed the decor of the street with a peal of laughter ... a stroke of beauty ... He creates posters which, assembled together, form the most interesting monument there can be to the Parisian chronicle against a backdrop of industrial activity."

Camille Mauclair, who visited Cheret frequently in his Chaix studio, once recalled his experiences with Cheret during this period:

He worked in a larged room, sometimes seated at an easel, sketching, sometimes stretched out on a large stone, leaning on his left arm and drawing an astonishingly facile line with his right hand. When he dealt with a stone already impregnated with yellow, blue, or red ink, he projected a fine shower of color on it that ... resulted in gradations and ranges of tones whose secret seemed impenetrable. He did it with the dexterity of a Japanese, while humming or chatting with his charming French gaiety.

Cheret's door was always open and he welcomed his friends without either stopping his work or seeming the least incommoded. We spoke of literature, travel, politics even -- he was very nationalistic and spoke freely and with fire on the subject -- while a delicious young woman was born, appearing as easily as a flower under a magician's fingers. He surrounded himself with the chalk-highlighted black sketches that he would have done that morning on blue or sanguine paper. From time to time, he glanced at them, but memory did the rest. He checked his own image in a cheval-glass for a movement or expression and also would look continually in the mirror to see the reversed illustrations properly.

In the second room, he had fine Norman and Breton furniture, books on the history of costume and on paintings and eighteenth century prints from the great museums of Europe. He read Schopenhauer enthusiastically and swore that he found neither sadness nor despair in his works. Pessimism was rose-colored in his eyes!

Mauclair also noted that the walls in Cheret's studio were plastered with reproductions and prints of Donatello, Michelangelo, Houdin, and Tieopolo. Cheret also owned and displayed many original works, including works from Albert Besnard and Rodin. He continues:

As a sign of gratitude, all this was dominated by a bust of Eugene Rimmel, executed by Carrier-Belleuse (Cheret's father in law). Rimmel, Cheret's benefactor, had recognized and sustained his art. A fine, intelligent man, his philanthropy had also provided for the founding of the French Hospital in London.

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