Les Maitres de l'Affiche (1895-1900) - A History
La Belle Epoque
"There was nothing exclusive about the 'joie de vivre' that
swept Paris, at a delirious pace, out of the 19th century into the
20th. As Victor Hugo had observed, the city lived by, and for, the
whole human race. Haussman's great boulevards had opened up a spacious
stage where Paris made a spectacle of herself by day and night.
Outdoors and indoors the walls of buildings flowered with posters
that took their themes from the passing show of 'La Vie Parisenne.'
Advertising never new happier days. The most ephemeral of the arts
has left us with a vision of the 'good old days' that vanished forever
in the gunsmoke of 1914. Those gay nineties and naughty noughts
that will always be remembered as 'La Belle Epoque.'(The beautiful
(Horizon p. 97)
Streets of Paris
was Jules Cheret (French, 1836-1932)
whose unique combination of artistic, technical and entrepreneurial
talents was to pave the way for a true poster industry. After Cheret
opened his own print shop in Paris in1866, his work continued to
inspire emulators in Europe and America. From 1881 on, his shop
operated as a branch of the large Chaix firm (Imprimerie Chaix -
Imprimerie Chaix (The Printer)
"By the 1890s the streets of every great metropolis were enlivened
by large colourful posters (see The Great
Poster Movement). The poster had not only caught the fancy of
the broad public, but its best examples were already being regarded
as works of art (specifically, as fine prints) to be exhibited,
reviewed in journals, collected and reprinted in a manageable form.
In the last five years of the century, the Imprimerie Chaix was
to play great part in codifying, hallowing and perpetuating the
ebullient period of 'La Belle Epoque.' It was in those years that
the firm published "Les Maitres de l'Affiche" (Masters
of the Poster) reduced lithographic versions, in authentic colours,
of the best posters of Europe and America, by more than 90 great
artists, posters that bring the period to life." (Appelbaum
Alain Weill, an authority in the field of poster history, points
out that posters in this series had major appeal, in part, due to
their manageable size: "At the time posters posed a problem
which, moreover, has still not been solved, of how to keep, preserve
and enjoy a collection consisting of very large size posters which
one has to preserve rolled or flat in some large cabinet...("Les
Maitres de l'Affiche") provided a reduction of the most valued
and the most widely known posters." (Masters
The "Les Maitres de l'Affiche" series was offered as a
subscription series to collectors.
Every month for 60 months, from December 1895 through November 1900,
subscribers received by mail, 4 loose sheets (Maitres) with a cover
sheet. It was sold in Paris for 2.50 francs for one month's subscription,
(4 Maitres) and for 27 francs for 12 months (48 maitres), plus special
(bonus) plates (see Special plates). Maitre's
were never issued in a book form, but a binding of the 12 months
Maitres was offered to subscribers, at the end of the year, with
a beautiful hardcover design by Paul
Berthon, for 8 Francs.
The "Maitres de l'Affiche," were issued as separate numbered
sheets, referred to as "plates" (PL). They were numbered,
with the printers name "Imprimerie Chaix," in the margin
at the bottom left hand corner, "PL.1" to "PL.240."
In the margin at the bottom right hand corner of each, is a blind
embossed stamp (see above) from a design of Cheret's (Sp.PL.1)
(see above). Each overall plate measures approximately 11 3/8 in.
x 15 3/4 in. (29cm x 40cm). The actual poster image varies in size
within the sheet, as the larger version posters were printed in
varied sizes. Therefore, each has a margin (border) around the actual
The smaller format and the fact the "Maitres" were a
paid subscription series, allowed Imprimerie Chaix to use the latest
state of the art printing techniques, not normally used in the large
format posters due to cost. (see "Poster Printing," The
Great Poster Movement). A very high quality of paper was used,
were as the large format posters were usually printed on lesser
quality newsprint, due to cost and a short expected life span. This
explains why the quality of the printing, in the "Maitres de
l'Affiche," usually far exceeds that of their larger counterparts.
Alain Weill, notes that a month's offerings (four Maitres) could
be had at the same price as an original poster by Toulouse-Lautrec,
Mucha or the other greats of the poster era, being sold through
print dealers at the time: "This is not at all surprising since
the larger posters were printed in quantity on ordinary paper and,
to boot, the one-time art and plate costs were assumed by the company
whose product it advertised; the dealers paid printers only for
the overrun they wished to acquire. Hence, we must consider it normal
that "Les Maitres de l'Affiche," specially produced by
means of lithography on quality paper, was offered for sale at the
price of an original poster. The people did not perceive these two
types of products as being in competition. They were infatuated
with small prints and with this kind of compilation" (Masters
The Special Plates
In addition to the 240 posters, Special plates (or bonus plates)
were issued to subscribers. There were a total of 16 Special plates
(see above), which were sent over the five years, each December,
each June, and March and September of the final three years. These
were not posters, but unique original lithographs done exclusively
for the "Maitres de l'Affiche" series. They are rendered
as finished drawings, with only a hint of colour in most (see above).
With Cheret designing seven
of the 16, as well as two by Steinlen,
two by Willette, and single
designs by Ibels, de
Feure, Crafty, Berthon
and Leandre. With no product
or service to advertise in the Special plates, the artist's were
able to demonstrate the essence of their skill and creativity, and
create some of the most beautiful image of the entire series.
Jules Cheret was the artistic director of the "Imprimerie Chaix."
He dominated the series, with one in every four Maitres by him,
the first in each monthly instalment, and 7 of the Special plates,
a total of 67. With over 1000 poster designs to his credit, his
large representation in the series is justified, although some critics
have pointed out that, as the artistic director, he may have been
biased towards selecting his own work. "Of the other 96 artists
represented in "Les Maitres de l'Affiche, some were pre-eminent
painters and printmakers at various stages of their careers: Toulouse-Lautrec,
Vallotton. Others were famous
illustrators and cartoonists of the period, still well known to
art collectors, including Forain,
Caran d'Ache, Ibels,
Boutet de Monvel, Leandre.
But there were also all those whose names say 'poster,' the conquering
pioneers of the new medium including, Cheret
himself, Mucha, Steinlen,
the list could go on and on." (Appelbaum
"Les Affiches Illustrees" and "Das Moderne Plakat"
Both are similar in style and quality to the "Les
Maitres de l'Affiche" offering a wonderful selection of
the greatest posters of the day. Each plate is approximately 3/4
the size of a comparable "Maitres de l'Affiche" version
(sheet size 8 1/2 in x 12 in) and currently priced at approximately
60% of the " Maitres de l'Affiche" version. The name of
each publication and the printer are printed in the margins on each
plate. Each publication included some of the same images that also
appear as "Maitres de l'Affiche." They have all become
rare and valuable to the serious collector.
Les Affiches Illustrees was printed in Paris by Imprimerie
Chaix who also printed "Les Maitre de l'Affiche."
Published in two bound volumes in 1886 and 1896 offering 84 lithograph
plates including Cheret, Lautrec,
and others. The printing was limited to only 1025, making them
very rare indeed.
Das Moderne Plakat was printed in Dresden by Verlag von Gerhard
Kuhtmann in 1897. A bound volume with 52 lithograph plates including
and others. Also a truly wonderful
"Les Maitres de l'Affiche, Affiches Illustrees and Das Moderne
Plakat" were produced for collectors at the turn of the century
and have been sought after by collectors for over 100 years. Many
of the posters in the series cannot be found today in any other
format. They have not survived. Others are extremely rare and have
sold for staggering amounts (for example see PL.122,
PL.197, and PL.95).
Individual plates can range in price from around $100 to over $10,000
USD. With the advent of more interest in posters, prices have been
increasing steadily. Over the last 10 years, many plates have doubled
or tripled in value. "One of the strongest changes over the
last ten years is that there is a larger and more knowledgeable
group of poster collectors," says Lucy Broido (poster historian).
"This is due, in part, to museum exhibitions and increased
news about posters."
As we have seen the actual size of the posters in the series, make
them very manageable. Unless you have enormous wall space with very
high ceilings, one large poster can dominate an entire room. The
beauty of these series is that they can be framed and displayed
alone or in groups, showing one or several artists, with one or
several subjects or styles, the combinations endless. They can be
very affordable when compared to their larger counterparts (example
see PL.150). which may not even
be available today. As well the condition can vary greatly in all
sizes and formats, from poor condition
(D) to excellent condition
"Today original posters by Cheret, Steinlen, Mucha, and
Toulouse-Lautrec have far exceeded many other forms of investment.
Unlike stocks and bonds, posters can be enjoyed for their beauty
as well as their investment values in the global art market.
Investment value aside, the true collector collects for the
love of the art itself. You should collect what you like, and expand
your interest slowly based upon looking at posters. This is exactly
what they were designed for, to deliver a message to you, to be
admired, to be remembered, and now most of all, to be enjoyed."
Greg Yaneff, Director