It was Jules Chéret in France who called attention to the poster in such a way as to cause people to begin to consider that it may be a form of art and not just a commercial product. “Chéret changed the character of posters entirely by giving more prominence to the pictorial image than to the lettering and by introducing a note of hilarity. In consequence it soon became fashionable to admire posters for their pictorial and artistic rather than for their publicity value.”[i]
In 1889 a poster exhibition was held in Paris of Chéret’s posters and in Nantes an international poster exhibition. “The popular success of these exhibitions was immense, Chéret was awarded the Legion of Honor, poster collecting became all the rage, and there was talk of art coming down off the walls of the sitting room into the street.”[ii] But France had yet to see one of its greatest masters of the art of the poster.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) designed only thirty posters between the years 1891-1900. His posters “had a bold, clear design enlivened by witty characterization and [were] pleasing to look at. [He] showed a real grasp of form, an acute sense of the visually effective.”[iii] His greatest poster created in 1893 was Jean Avril at the Jardin de Paris. Be sure to look it up online to receive the full effect of the following description.
“The full-length figure of the dancer is set in a very shallow area of space and framed by an encircling line which comes out of one end of the neck of the double bass and rejoins it again at the other. We feel that we are seeing Jane Avril magnified through a sort of quizzing-glass held up by the hand in the bottom right corner.”[iv]
“This is an outstanding example of how Lautrec could take a few elements of reality, juggle with them and produce, for example, an image suggesting vivacious gaiety simply by the way he used pure color and linear rhythm. In this respect he was both a pioneer and a master.”[v]
[i] Cooper, Douglas. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1956, page 38.
[iii] Ibid., page 41.
[v] Ibid., page 43.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.