The History of "Le Rire"

With more money and leisure time, the urban population reached out for intellectual and spiritual experiences. Now better educated, people acquired an appreciation of culture, art, and literature. As the posters for publications attest, there was a hunger for books, newspapers and magazines that brought the outside world to the reader as never before (publications such as Harper's, Lippincott's, Le Journal, Pan, Gills Blas, La Revue Blanche, and Le Rire)." (Gold)


"Le Rire," meaning "to laugh," was the most successful of all the "Journal Humoristique," published in France during the "Belle Epoque" (The last years of the 19th century). Published as an illustrated satirical weekly, from October 1894 to well into the 1950's. It was founded in Paris by Felix Juven in 1894. At the time corruption and incompetence ran rampant in the politics of the French government. There was anti-republican unrest directed on the infamous Dreyfus affair. It was also the gay nineties, a time of crowded cabarets and cafes flowing with the likes of Yvette Guibert and Polaire, to entertain the restless generation of the new found industrial age. A perfect time to poke fun at the political and social issues of the day.


It was the superb full colour drawings of the front and back covers and the centre spread, which made "Le Rire" outstanding. Printed as a small newspaper, black and white text and advertising appears on the reverse of each colour drawing. The great artists that flourished in Paris at the time were lined up to display their talents in "Le Rire" to an anxious public. It's most famous and important contributor was Toulouse-Lautrec, who did ten remarkable coloured drawings plus seven in black and white, during the first three years of publication (October 1894-October 1897). He introduces us to many of the celebrities of the day as well as social situations from the bedroom to the brothel. Creating some of the most beautiful and memorable drawings ever produced for the publication.



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The most prolific of all artists for the various journals of Paris, including "Le Rire," was the great master Steinlen. Between 1883 and 1900 he produced close to 2000 illustrations for 50 journals. "The humanity of the street, the working class, the uneducated, the exploited, were the pervasive subject of Steinlen's art. His popular sympathies found an economical and popular means of communicating his social messages" (Color Revolution p. 8) He contributed over a dozen striking works to "Le Rire."


In 1898, the soon to be famous young Italian artist Leonetto Cappiello, decided to pay a visit to Paris. He found the city exciting, and wanted to stay, but had to find a way to support himself. He approached two famous compatriots, the actor Novelli and the composer Puccini, and asked them to let him sketch their caricatures. They obliged, and Cappiello submitted the drawings to the humour magazine "Le Rire." They were promptly accepted, and were so well received by the public that he became, virtually overnight, the favoured artist of the Paris Theatre. His dozens of drawings for "Le Rire," earned him great recognition and his first poster commission, from which he went on to become one of the most popular poster artist's of the 20th Century.


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Other well known artists and many soon to be, contributed to "Le Rire," including Forain, Leandre, Metivet, Vallotton, Willette, Georges Meunier, Guillaume, and Bac to name a few. The works of these and other artists in "Le Rire," printed over 100 years ago, have become sought after by collectors, and are becoming increasingly difficult to find in good condition.