Jules Cheret

Jules Cheret, a name synonymous to the Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th century, was born in 1836 in Paris into a humble family of typographers and artisans. Thus, creativity and aesthetic awareness were instilled in him as the household that he grew up in was one that was conducive to ingenuity and experimentation. Cheret invested the early years of his youth, receiving art training under a three-year apprenticeship with a lithographer, followed by drawing lessons in the evening under the French artist Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran.
As a young student, he absorbed and learnt a lot from some of the works of famous painters in the Louvre and other museums. Thus by the age of 18, Cheret’s unique artistic flair became noticeable and he was able to earn a simple living selling designs and illustrations to customers, most of whom were music producers. Cheret travelled to London in 1854, where he was exposed to the advanced techniques of lithography which not only awed him, but also inspired him to improve his art by getting at par with the technological advancements of the time.
Upon returning to Paris in 1858, Cheret induced that pictorial lithographic posters were the future of graphic design, but he found it extremely suffocating because none of the advertisers were convinced by this. He received his first stroke of luck in the form of a commission for a poster advertising Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. Thwarted when this failed to prompt more commissions, Cheret returned to London where he spent the next seven years evolving his lithography expertise, and consequently imbibing the British style of poster design and printing.

During this time period, Cheret worked for Cramer publishers where he made illustrations, designed book covers and posters for music halls, theatres, cabarets, and circuses. Upon returning to Paris in 1866, Cheret’s friend introduced him to perfume manufacturer Eugene Rimmel, for whom he began designing perfume packaging. This collaboration, lead to Rimmel aiding the young designer in establishing his commercial color lithographic shop.
Cheret was revolutionary for poster design, as he altered the age old lithography technique by formulating a process which made printing more cost effective, with high quality colors- which were a colossal contribution to the development of graphic design. Jules Cheret from that juncture went on to become a significant figure in graphic-design history, and the principal artist to make his reputation in the medium of poster art. He is attributed for enhancing the aesthetic nature of posters, y bequeathing it with flowing elegant designs and transforming it into an independent decorative art form. An ardent admirer and depicter of the female form in his posters, Jules Cheret’s subjects became so popular that the Parisians dubbed them ‘Cherrettses’. It was because of his patronage of this genre and the painters associated with it; for the promotion of whom he published his book entitled Masters of the Poster ; that he began to be known as the ‘father of the Belle Epoque poster’.
Jean-Honore Fragonard and Antoine Watteau, were renowned names from the Rococo movement. The frivolity depicted in their works influenced Cheret’s work most deeply, which is why we see this sense of fun and enjoyment of trivialities in the posters designed by him. The most prominent aspect of his poster Carnival 1986 is the contrast in colour of the man and woman. This use of such a dramatic shadow effect exudes immense mystery in the man, and inadvertently prompts the viewer to assume that it’s a possible reflection of the role he plays in this theatrical production.
The colour green of the dress contributes in making the ‘Charett’ the focal point. This is also particularly so because the light green has been placed against a stark bright orange so the lighter colour is up lifted. . The orange and green come together to create great dramatic contrast and contributes to the eyes moving. Interestingly enough though, the brighter colour does not become the overriding force, instead it is the lighter colours placed on top that attract attention, such as the white of the fan and the green of the dress.
The flowing dress and the angularity of her body posture all contribute towards achieving such a focal point. The tilted head and face looking directly at the viewers is immensely captivating. On a closer look one notices that there is a woman in between the two central characters, who is partially touched by the light that shines on the protagonists of the scene- her body isolated from the physical splendour of the two main characters. This could be taken to represent some trio or three way relationship which could be the dramatic aspect this story.
Thus giving out a short teaser through the design of the poster to entice the interest of the onlooker too becomes one of the most potent aspects of poster designing for operas, plays and performances. This inadvertently leads me to ponder over how poster design requires a lot of understanding of the audience’s psyche and how exactly to manipulate it. The woman in the forefront is also the focal point because her skin is much lighter than the others, which inadvertently takes the viewers’ attention to her first.
She is also in a vulnerable seated position, which symbolizes femininity and easiness, perhaps with a sexual connotation. The angle of the hand undeniably invites the viewer in to the composition most effectively. He has employed the use of decorative serif fonts in his heading to give his posters a formal and elegant feel- but details of the play have been written in sans serif to ensure clarity in reading. This understanding of and consequent justice to the choice of fonts is fascinating. Fonts most popular employed by Cheret were Antiqua and Bernhard Antiqua and Bernhard Fraktur.
Jules Cheret’s Loie Fuller poster for the Folies Bergeres is very characteristic of his style of design. The work space is dominated by a central figure of vibrant splendor engulfed by vivid gushing colors and beautiful swirling drapery. This poster is an iconic addition to his range of elated, graceful and energetic women- for which aptly dubbed ‘Cherettes’ by the Parisians. Jules’ masterstroke of success can be attributed to these women that he showed in his posters- their low-cut bodices and exaggerated postures lead to his instant success.
He used his ‘Cherettes’ to advertise anything from beverages and alcohol, perfumes, soaps, cosmetics to pharmaceutical products. Eventually he was promoting railway companies as well as a series of manufacturing businesses. The use of color and its understanding is brilliant, and here Cheret’s signature use of the colors orange and green are very evident. Jules Cheret possessed a magnificent palette of great chromatic intensity. The colors used by him in the overlap in his signature sophisticated and resolved manner.
But using different tones of green and orange together definitely contribute to making it a very dynamic composition but with an intrinsic softness to it. The color starting from the light green on the top frill of the dress and gradually building up to the bright orange at the bottom left contributes immensely to eye movement as the colors aid it and let is travel most effortlessly. The flow in the strokes of the dress is so unrestricted still it contributes in bringing out the form and posture of the girl.
The angle of the ‘Cherette’s’ posture invites the eye and allows it to tour the poster. The curve of the top dress brings the viewer in, going down to the tilt of the head, to the angularity of the head stylization of the figure is such that it gives this 2D form a very 3D feel to it as if the girl is going to emerge from the poster with her dress flowing. One very striking aspect of Jules Cheret’s is the dynamics of Cheret’s workspace- Jules has the brilliance to do justice to his given work space and to not let the colossal size of his posters become an impediment.
In this poster, he played with a solitary figure and minimal text, but still did not ignore any space, leaving it to be perceived as static or idle- he does immense justice to the tools at his disposal. It is a strongly articulated poster which was envisioned to be appealing to those viewing it. Jules Cheret was in the good books of critics as he was fortunate to have them be very responsive to the work he produced. It was said that his work was ‘innovative, alive, a breath of fresh air’.
He invented specific character types such as the “happy clown”, which is a large size painting that he made in 1881, but even as early as the 1860s, we see him employing the exact same clown image on the left middle of his poster ‘Concert des Ambassedeurs’. Cheret’s mastery for color is worth noting. Over the course of analyzing these four posters, one realizes that he has the unique ability to play with color in a manner of showing the matt quality of soft hair, and the glossy hard technique which he is employing in this piece.
Harold Hutchinson writes in “The Poster: An Illustrated History From 1860” that Jules Cheret 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,” to make a product sell’. Which is what he has very intelligently achieved in this poster – the presence of the girl and the clown would instigate a curiosity as to what this function may contain, but details of it are not dogmatically given out.
This particular poster emanates a sense of ‘refined vulgarity’, which is a paradox on its own. Cheret’s poster distinctive characteristic is often the ‘violent curves’ of the female form. It can be analyzed in such a manner because in spite the fact that Cheret used women as the primary focus of his posters, their sensuality was presented in a more evolved and elevated manner unlike the posters designed in the arts and crafts movement. But as an analysis point, I believe that more than liberating the woman, Cheret created a fantasy of provocative beauty.
This inadvertently was an unhealthy way to commence advertising. This poster is an apt example of Cheret’s sensuous ‘Cherettes’. Jules’ exploration of form, especially giving it this animated quality really distinguished him as the pioneer of poster art. This is an apt title for him, particularly because he was able to master the art of establishing unity between texts and images perfectly- the weight, font size and type all complement each other and the image so well.
Cheret almost always employs the use of a single prominent figure, which dominates maximum of the workspace and like here; the girl in red dominates how the entire poster is laid out. This figure becomes the central feature that the rest of the characters and the text then need to co relate to. Alongside that, floral motifs are subtly often used by Cheret because he was someone very inspired by the beauty of nature. Thus in this poster too the girl in white in the background has a flower on her dress and the one in red in the forefront organic form/design on her dress. Elysse, montmartre bal masque’, was a poster for the masked ball held the Palace theatre- designed 1881. This poster is an apt example of the similarity between the painting style of James Ensor and those of the lithographic advertisements being designed by Jules Cheret. The two artists shared the innate qualities of working on a large scale, experimenting with bright colors and ‘caricaturel linearity’. It encompasses the elegance of the French and their carefree grace. In this poster, Cheret’s play with angles isn’t as lively as what he’s capable of.
But still this diagonal slant binds in with the feel and message of the poster. Deliberate harmonious gestures contribute to the dance like quality which turns this mundane poster in to a masterpiece executed with superb technique and flatness of color. Cheret is a genius when it comes to color; here he is gently fading away background creating a very dynamic sense even though the foreground has a lot of character and agility. The light in this poster is intense but not yet harsh, it falls gently on the girl and her soft hair, enhancing the shape of her body and accentuating the colors around her too.
Jules Cheret signature style was his free hand lettering, which had a very theatrical airy style to it. He used large fonts, and black outlined his caricature like linear figures here which make each poster such a unique work of art. Cheret’s posters not only sold product but sold an image of ideal woman and ideal life style. With the advent of the Industrial revolution, people’s living standards were improving thus they were susceptible to being affected by the lifestyle that he depicted.

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