cheret Before Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Chip Kidd, Milton Glaser and other notable modern graphic designers there was a French artist Jules Chéret, often deservingly called the “father of the modern poster”. His successful venture into commercial art has inspired many artists of XIX century, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen, Leonetto Cappiello and Alfons Mucha, to apply their talent in poster industry.

At the age of 13 Cheret’s father-typographer placed him in a three year apprenticeship in lithographer’s studio. At that time lithography was a one-color process. Cheret invented a three-stone lithographic process which allowed the artists to produce a highly vivid and colourful printed works of art. Poster movement quickly spread around and transformed streets of Paris into art galleries.

moulinrouge Cheret was creating vibrant and evocative poster ads for cabarets, theatres, music halls, operas – Theatre de l’Opera, Folies Bergères, the Alcazar d’Ete and the Moulin Rouge. He was in such demand that he expanded his business and was designing posters for railroad companies, alcoholic beverages, perfumes, cosmetics and even pharmaceutical products. He was a very prolific designer, who created over 1000 advertisements.

cigarettesHis posters were often displaying dazzling free-spirited beauties. Everyone was referring to them as “Cherettes”, and no one could resist the seductive looks of those mind-blowing nymphs inviting people to buy the tempting packs of cigarettes. Cheret’s display of emancipated females on his posters earned him another title – “father of the women’s liberation”.

lidiaThe enormous popularity of poster art was placing some artists in such a big demand that theatre stars were personally selecting their favourite artists to create posters for upcoming performances. By the end of the 19th century, often referred to as Belle Époque, poster art has spread in other parts of Europe.

aperitifEvery country was specializing in a certain subject depending on the popular trends of the time. In France, cafés and cabarets were in vogue, making champagne, aperitif and dancers to top the list of advertising topics. Italy has popularized large opera and fashion posters, while everyone in Spain was crazy about the bullfight.

In 1895 Jules Chéret has put together 256 color lithographic plates to create an incredible collection of smaller sized reproductions by Maîtres de l’Affiche (Masters of the Poster), featuring the best works of ninety-seven Parisian artists. It resulted in a big commercial success. The prints were sold in a package of four and delivered to subscribers on a monthly basis. Today the Maîtres de l’Affiche works are sought after by collectors from all over the world.

foliesPoster Art is still going strong today. Besides advertising, the new types of posters play important roles in our society: Propaganda and political posters, Film posters, Band/Music posters, Event posters, Educational posters. There’s so much to learn and borrow the ideas from poster art – colour and typography choices, character placement, fashion statement, overall composition, light, concept and theme choice. No wonder that many web and graphic designers find inspiration in vintage posters for their website and graphic projects, some photographers are greatly influenced by people’s depiction and composition techniques in posters, fashion designers often base their designs on dresses and scintillating images of females on those posters.

I’m planning on showcasing some websites with a retro style in a near future. If you know some interesting vintage-looking websites, I would really appreciate your input.

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5 Insightful Bits in response to “First Successful Commercial Graphic Designer”

  1. This is a really informative and exciting post. Got to learn so much about poster art and see some good pieces in less than 15 minutes. I have not seen them in original form. Any idea if they were done in oil? Glazing at paintings and sculpture at Opera Gallery is one of my favourite past-time.

  2. Vivien

    Thanks, Vivienne, glad you found the post informative.
    Cheret was using lithography to create all his posters. He did also have several original paintings done in oil, but not the poster ones. You can find out more details at http://www.cheret.info/

  3. I keep forgetting to comment on this! I saw it a couple days ago, but was on my way out.

    I don’t remember studying this guy in school. I’m so glad you found him and shared! It must take an awesome mind to think of something that’s never been done before, like color printing. I’m always amazed by people who are able to truly “think outside the box” and design or create a brand new invention.

  4. Vivien

    oh, I’m really glad you liked this post. I was so fascinated by Cheret’s story that I had to share it with others.

  5. Thanks … popping over now

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on