It's the late 19 Century and poster art was in early stages of development through the art Nouveau or "new art" movement in Paris. With the help of Jules Cheret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec the poster became the most popular form of mass advertising. Cheret began drawing his pictures directly on to the lithographic stone right after the mechanical presses were invented. It was the first time in history that these images could be produced so abundantly and cheaply that their posters populated streets corners of Paris on every available surface.
|Lautrec dresses up as an alter boy for friends wedding.|
For Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec the timing of this lithographic mecca couldn’t have been more perfect. Often known for dressing up in outrageous outfits, Henry’s reasons for preferring to use the medium was obvious. What better to attract the attention of the public’s eye? The poster was that perfect–in your face medium–that accomplished these goals.
History books have often overlooked Jules Cheret's contribution to the development of the early lithographic poster. Oddly enough, he had been given the first commission for the Moulin Rouge when it opened in 1889, but his pretty approach with circus riders on donkeys was not a successful brand for the nightclub–somewhat invested in the acceptable debauchery at the time. While Henry has gone on record as an admirer of Cheret’s efforts, only a few months later it was Cheret who would proclaim, “Lautrec is a master!”
Graphic design art historian Phillip Meggs raised an important question on how we might have overlooked Lautec’s contemporaries and their contributions in his article Toulouse Latrec: Superb but Not Alone. He asks the question- ”Was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec the guru of the modern poster as some art history books would have us believe? Or was he the quick sketch artist storming into the print shop with a hangover and using his brilliant gifts as a draftsman to bang out posters?” - AIGA Journal of Graphic Design Vol.4, No. 2, 1986.