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Les Maîtres de l'Affiche

"The Masters of the Poster"

1895 - 1900

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There is little debate as to the effects of the color poster revolution on the inhabitants of turn-of-the-century Paris. The streets were literally plastered with color posters, advertising everything from operas and plays to cigarettes and candy.

In 1866, Jules Cheret opened his print shop in Paris. At some point in 1881, he merged his venture with a larger firm, Impremerie Chaix, and was appointed Artistic Director. Many of the posters printed in France during the Belle Epoch (1890-1900), were published by Chaix. Posters printed by Chaix were often denoted with the Chaix emblem, as shown in the image to the right.

In 1895, Chaix decided to commemorate, and forever capture the spirit of the color poster revolution. They offered a subscriber-based program where participants received color reproductions of popular posters in the mail. Each month, from 1895, lasting through 1900, subscribers received 4 color "wrappers" in the mail, each measuring 11.25 x 15.5 inches.

The collection, and program, was aptly named "Les Maîtres de l'Affiche", or The Masters of the Poster.

The image to the right show an actual monthly wrapper set issued by Chaix during this period.

In addition to the normal monthly installments, from time to time Chaix issued special "bonus" wrappers to subscribers (as depicted in the images to the right). These special reproductions were not posters, but were original prints created specifically for subscribers of Les Maîtres de l'Affiche. In all, a total of 16 special prints were issued over the 5 year period.

In the end, the series depicted 240 posters, from nearly a 100 different poster artists. Some of the most prolific and important artistic figures are represented. In the collection, there are works from Theophile Steinlen, Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Alexandre Grun, Alphonse Mucha, Maxfield Parrish, Fernand Toussaint, Georges Rochgrosse, Lucien Lefevre, and many others.

Jules Cheret dominated the collection, providing 1/4 (60) of the posters, while other, equally talented artists, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Grun, and Steinlen, only received a few spots each. Some scholars and historians claim that this was due to Cheret's prominent position as Chaix's Artistic Director. However, you must keep in mind that Cheret was, without a doubt, the most prolific poster artist of the time, producing over 1,000 posters in his illustrious career.

Today, a complete collection of Les Maîtres de l'Affiche would be worth a small fortune (some individual wrappers can run as high as $2500). However, you can enjoy all 256 pieces (240 posters and 16 bonus prints) in our Masters of the Poster exhibit. We have methodically and painstakingly digitized and color enhanced the entire collection for your viewing pleasure. Each individual plate is represented as a thumbnail image in our database. Each thumbnail will lead you to a larger image.

We hope you enjoy this exhibit. As always, please direct your questions and suggestions to [email protected].

Please direct all inquiries, corrections, and submissions to [email protected].