In the days when publicity and advertising was not largely done, as it is today, with photos, the Moulin Rouge called upon great artists like Lautrec and Gruau.
Like the revues, their illustrations are always a reflection of the time, and they are in perfect harmony with the spirit of the Moulin Rouge.The period from the second half of the 19th century to the First World War was the golden age of the poster in France.Dozens of artists transformed the poster from a functional object (an advertisement) to a collector’s print with real artistic quality.Cheret, Toulouse Lautrec, Willette, Steilen, Grün, Sem, Roedel, Cappiello, Gesmar, , OKley, Gruau and also Paul Colin, Dignimont, Louis legrand, Vaillant, Zig, E. Prieur, Pol-Rab, JF Raffaelli, Alfred Choubrac, Paul E. Villefroy, José de Zamora…
Jules Chéret (1836-1932)
Chéret, the father of the coloured artistic poster, was the most prolific artist of his generation with more than 1,000 posters. With just four basic colours – red, yellow, blue and black - he managed to obtain all nuances and shades of colour.Chéret’s work influenced the painters of his time: Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard in France; Dudley Hardy in England; Henri Meunier and Privat Livemont in Belgium. His joyful creations, and the ease with which he tackled various techniques, naturally led Jules Chéret to poster art, of which he was a pioneer.The type of woman he portrayed was vivacious, a mischievous Parisian, a supple cousin of Colombine, existing between heaven and earth. His rich and luminous palette made Parisian hoardings a constantly changing display.The hundreds of posters that he produced make up a rich collection and are moving witnesses to famous places of the time: the Folies Bergères, the Grévin museum, department stores, and the Moulin Rouge.In 1889, he created the first “Ball at the Moulin Rouge” poster for the opening of the cabaret.All his posters were printed by the Chaix printing house.He created two posters for the Moulin Rouge:
- 1889 Bal du Moulin Rouge Place Blanche
- 1890 Moulin Rouge Paris Cancan
Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901)
After moving to Montmartre in 1884, Lautrec regularly attended its cabarets.On the 6th October 1889 the Moulin Rouge opened at 90 boulevard de Clichy, and Lautrec became a devotee. His table was always reserved for him, and he displayed his work there.In January 1890, Lautrec went to Brussels with Signac and Guibert for the opening of the "Les Vingt" exhibition. A scandal ensued when Lautrec defended Van Gogh’s work, and he challenged H. de Groux to a duel. However, the duel did not take place. On the 6th April, shortly before he committed suicide, Van Gogh visited Lautrec in Paris. His classmate, Joyant, took over from Théo Van Gogh at the Goupil gallery on the Montmartre hill. Lautrec got to know Jane Avril. He painted Moulin-Rouge (Valentin le Désossé training the new girls) which Joseph Oller, the Director, soon bought to decorate his establishment. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibited in 1891 with Anquetin, Emile Bernard and Pierre Bonnard. He produced his first poster, and became famous throughout Paris the day after its publication: Moulin-Rouge (La Goulue).In 1892, Lautrec created a poster for his friend Jane Avril, a dancer in the cancan quadrille at the Moulin Rouge; he also represented her in “The Japanese Divan”, then in 1893 in “Jane Avril in the Jardin de Paris of the Moulin Rouge”, and, in 1899, in a final poster, “Jane Avril”.
- At the Moulin-Rouge or The Walk (La Goulue and Jane Avril in the background), about 1891/1892, Cardboard, 80 x 65 cm
- Jane Avril going into the Moulin-Rouge, 1892, Cardboard, 103 x 55 cm
- La Goulue going into the Moulin-Rouge, 1892, Cardboard, 79.4 x 59 cm
- At the Moulin Rouge, start of the quadrille, 1892, Cardboard, 80.1 x 60.5 cm
- At the Moulin-Rouge, 1892, Cardboard, 80 x 60 cm
- At the Moulin-Rouge: Two women waltzing, 1892, Cardboard, 93 x 80 cm
- The Englishman at the Moulin-Rouge, 1892, Cardboard, 85.7 x 66 cm
- At the Moulin-Rouge, about 1892/1893, Canvas, 123 x 140.5 cm
- At the Moulin-Rouge: The female clown Cha-U-Kao, 1895, Canvas, 75 x 55 cm
- The Dance at the Moulin-Rouge: la Goulue and Valentin le Désossé, 1895, Canvas, 298 x 316 cm Passionate about lithography, Lautrec left nearly 400 lithographic plates and only 31 posters.It seems that he discovered publicity art after Bonnard had shown the way.Zidler, Director of the Moulin Rouge, where he was a regular customer, asked him to create a poster to replace the one done by Chéret two years earlier.His genius was obvious from this first plate:Valentin le Désossé in a cinema-like silhouette close-up, a dark mass of spectators in the background before which the radiant figure of La Goulue and her dazzling skirt (the white of the cardboard left unpainted) stands out under yellow paper lanterns.Like the Japanese, Lautrec chose a dynamic and bold layout: diagonals and a few strokes are enough to create a scene.The brilliant colours are juxtaposed with monotone areas, his outlines are bold, powerful, energetic.With its power and daring, Lautrec’s work is diametrically opposed to that of Chéret.He replaces an exterior, neutral vision with one that is interior and engaged.Thus, whilst Chéret paints for the Moulin Rouge an elegant, allegorical woman surrounded by Pierrots under the sails of the windmill, Lautrec shows us what is really happening.He paints people as they are, uncompromisingly. Lautrec’s posters have left a profound impression on the collective subconscious, and they continue to fascinate today.Lautrec fixed forever the ephemeral nature of Parisian night life.And he innovated, right from the first poster. He reduced the range of colours to yellow, red, blue and black, and his blacks are extraordinary. The rest is what forms the basis of his posters, which are also the synthesis of his art. He produced particularly deep olive greens through a skilful mix of inks, and frequently used them for lettering. Lautrec also employed a technique used by many poster artists: crachis or spattering. This is a fine spray of ink made by running a knife across an ink-loaded toothbrush. Lautrec was a great admirer of the masters of Japanese prints, and from their work he learnt that it was possible to obtain with “simple and juxtaposed colours, results that are as pure those produced with many, superimposed colours". His drawing technique is also similar to Japanese art as it seems to burst forth spontaneously, surrounding each figure with a vigorous stroke. In fact, for each poster, Lautrec tried many different forms before finding exactly the right tones. Some of these first attempts are unique, whilst others were off-printed in 20 copies or more. Some forms are with lettering, that is with the final text of the poster, others are first experiments without any text. Sometimes he changes the colour of the lettering or experiments with different backgrounds. Each poster demanded an extraordinary amount of experimentation with colours, drawing and the positioning of the text so as not to upset the balance of the composition. Lautrec perfectly understood that the poster is above all a form of communication. It must attract people’s attention with irresistible effects. So he learned to exclude superfluous detail. Contours disappear in favour of backgrounds in flat colours.The real phenomenon, for the history of art, was the public’s passion for Lautrec’s posters. Perhaps for the first time the public was drawn immediately to a form of art considered to be avant-garde, whilst many artists, critics and collectors were repelled by Lautrec’s unexpected compositions, his pictorial techniques like the harshness of the faces or the distortion he employed to make the figures more expressive. The poster for the « Moulin Rouge » is the first modern poster, a true work of art that collectors very quickly started searching out, even removing them from the walls where they were affixed.
Adolphe Wilette (1857-1926)
One of the key figures in Montmartre, and one of its most tireless artists, he decorated many cabarets, including the Moulin Rouge, and designed the famous red windmill: his emblem.
Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859 – 1923)
Steinlen studied philosophy and literature, and was greatly influenced by reading Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir when he was seventeen. Later, he became a proponent of the class struggle and the proletarian rebellion.He began his career in 1879 as a fabric designer in Mulhouse but then moved to Montmartre where he settled permanently. In 1883, Steinlen started mixing with the artistic group from the Le Chat Noir cabaret where he met Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Verlaine and Aristide Bruant.
Jules Alexandre Grün (1868-1934)
French painter, illustrator and poster artist, he is considered one of the last academic painters of the Belle Époque.A Montmartre character par excellence, he merits a separate mention for the size of his output and the originality of his style.Grün’s favourite themes are still-life, portraits and scenes of Parisian life during the Belle Époque. He also made a name as a poster artist and illustrator linked with Jules Chéret. He designed more than two thousand posters over forty years.For many cabarets and concerts in Montmartre he created extraordinarily lively posters, including several for the Moulin Rouge, such as: “It’s very exciting” and “You walk”.
Sem (real name Georges Goursat 1865-1954) was a caricaturist along with the young Cappiello.In November 1900, Cappiello signed his first contract with the printer-publisher P.Vercasson, which marked the start of his career as a poster artist.Like Chéret, he portrayed attractive women who seemed to have come straight out of the music hall: tightly corseted figure, low cut dress, with a very alluring smile. He started to make these characters seem to move. It was the start of what he called the “arabesque”.
Charles Gesmar (1900-1928)
He displayed talent as a designer when he was only fifteen years old. He became one of the most creative and innovative music hall designers of the 1920s.Mistinguett called on his services and Gesmar designed costumes and posters for her until his death. He portrayed her on stage, adorned with her feathers and jewels.She was then 41 and already famous. A large part of her success in the 1920s and the fame that she still has today throughout the world is due to Charles Gesmar.Charles Gesmar’s work shows his fascination for glitter and glamour, for the projectors and lights, the luxury, feathers, silks and lively colours. His costumes highlight the femininity and grace of the actresses’ bodies.Zig, who also died young, took over from Gesmar and designed costumes and posters for Mistinguett after the latter’s death.
OKley (real name Pierre Gilardeau)
Okley, throughout his career, combined a passion for flying and his love of portraying the pin-up.He was self-taught, but persevered and made his name with graphic posters. Later he adopted the pseudonym Okley so as not to besmirch the family name; his parents disapproved of this new profession that he had taken up, in which he painted the charms and beauty of the woman.But in 1956, when he created a poster for the Nouvelle Eve cabaret, his career took a new turn. From that time, he produced a large number of posters for the world of entertainment and collaborated with the most famous Parisian shows, such as the Folies Bergère, the Moulin Rouge and the Casino de Paris.
René Gruau (1910 – 2004)
Gruau settled in Paris where he got to know Christian Dior, who quickly became a close friend.He also produced posters for many music halls, such as the Lido, the Moulin Rouge and the Roland Petit Ballets.This artist is one of the greatest contemporary French poster artists, whose work has never disappointed the public.One of his rare cinema posters was for Jean Renoir’s film “French Can-Can” and is a “homage” to Toulouse-Lautrec.
He designed 10 posters for the Moulin Rouge between 1963 and 1998.
· 1963: « Frou-Frou » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1965 : « Frisson » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1967 : « Fascination » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1970 : « Fantastic » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1973 : « Festival » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1976 : « Follement » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1978 : « Frénésie » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1983 : « Femmes, Femmes, Femmes » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1988 : « Formidable » Bal du Moulin Rouge
· 1998 : « Féérie » Bal du Moulin Rouge René Gruau created some of the most iconic fashion images of the 20th century.René Gruau’s bold lines and fluid style were perfectly in tune with the spirit of Dior, capturing the energy, elegance and audacity of the brand. His illustrations also tell of a special understanding Gruau had of Christian Dior himself, born of a close friendship between the two men. Gruau influenced the graphic style of a whole generation of fashion illustrators. Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Caminate was born in Rimini, Italy, on February 4th, 1909. His father was an Italian nobleman, and his mother was French. He used the name Rene Gruau for his sketches.While still a teenager, in 1923, Gruau made fashion sketches which were accepted by German, French and Italian magazines.He moved to Paris with his mother in 1924, and designed to become a fashion designer. He started by drawing fashionable women. His bold, rhythmic, colorful drawings of modish women are still relevant today. Between 1935 and 1946, he illustrated the couture clothing of many designers, including Pierre Balmain in 1946 in magazines such as Marie Claire, Femina, L'Officiel and Le Magazine de Figaro.In 1940, he settled in Lyon, working as a fashion designer for the magazine Marie Claire. In 1946, he started collaboration with the magazine International Textiles, which lasted till 1984, designing cover pages.In 1947, Gruau met Christian Dior, and assumed artistic direction for perfume advertising. From then on, he illustrated the advertisements for Dior perfumes. From 1948 to 1950, he lived in the United States, initially working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and later exclusively for Flair, the celebrated fashion, art and society magazine published by Fleur Cowles.From 1948 to 1950, Gruau designed costumes for stage productions, including posters for the Moulin Rouge. His work elevated the art of fashion illustration to a belle époque and he became the favoured artist of the haute couture world.During the 60's and 70's, he worked primarily in advertising. In the 80's and 90's, Gruau has contributed to magazines and acted as an artistic consultant to major fashion houses such as Dior and Givenchy.In 1982, the first exhibition of his work at the Bartsch and Chariau gallery in Munich marked the beginning of a Gruau renaissance, with major solo retrospective exhibitions following in Paris, Rome, New York and Tokyo.His design career successfully spanned six decades. His style ranged from open-faced friendly women, who look as if they enjoy wearing fashionable clothes, to elegant seductive creatures who wear their garments with an air of mystery. He was truly, an icon of the fashion world.Rene Gruau died on 31st March 2004, in Paris, at the age of 95.