18 March 2013

Nouveau Risque

For those who don't read French, the poster at left announces an exhibition of  pictures and drawings in Paris, but you probably recognize the artist Jules Cheret's style.  Cheret chose to include this work from 1888 in the collection he named Les Maitres de l'Afiiche and the Syracuse University Art gallery chose the collection as the centerpiece for their recent exhibition Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress.
Published in Paris as a monthly subscription, similar to a magazine, from December 1895 to November 1900, The Masters of the Poster was the inspired marketing idea of the man now considered the father of the modern poster, Jules Cheret (1836-1932).  At the same time the series made reproductions of artworks available at reasonable prices, Cheret was also elevating the poster to the realm of art.  He may have been familiar with a previous but unsuccessful attempt by the publisher Cadart who, in 1862, assembled a portfolio that included works by Edouard Manet. 

I remember the anticipation I felt as a child when a package  arrived each month in the mail  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Similar to Cheret's portfolios,  the museum's  booklets (on an artist or a special subject) came with  a large sheet of glossy color images that could be detached and mounted on the appropriate pages   What was also similar was the ingenious combination of art for appreciation and  elucidation.   You could even collect the booklets in sturdy melon-hued cardboard folders, stamped in gold lettering.  From that experience, I can teleport myself to Belle Epoque France for the delivery of  Les Maitres de l'Affiche

Cheret is also notable for his signal creation of a type - the Cherette - a young woman definitely nouveau in her day and slightly risque.   Whether attending cafe concerts and cabarets or strolling the sidewalks, stopping to inspect some of the newly available consumer goods for sale, (art prints were a frequently depicted example), she was neither recgonizably a respectable matron nor a working class servant.   

A survey of working Parisians taken during the 1890s found that one in ten was involved in the production and maintenance of clothing. From dressmakers, cobblers, and milliners to laundresses and seamstresses it took a legion of poorly paid workers to keep the population washed and dressed.  Many women thus employed had little choice but to supplement their meager wages with prostitution.  It was to this fact, in part, that women appearing in public alone or together but without a male escort were seen as risque.

Great improvements in color lithography came along just in time to record the first stirrings of women's emancipation, a work  still in progress today. Out of the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and influenced by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that were the rage in Belle Epoque Paris, Cheret created a style that was originally seen in the street and then on the walls of art salons and eventually the homes of the bourgeoisie. 

Having taken some modest steps into the life of city streets, the turn of the century woman began to try other activities.  Tennis and bicycling, as we know well, are activities that call for  clothing other than ordinary street-wear.    But the split skirt or culotte was a new and daring outfit, so a sensible young woman would have a male escort at her side when she ventured out thus attired. 
Nouveau Risque, the exhibition, includes other artworks from the period, including favrile glass pieces from the Tiffany Studio. What is  most interesting and apropos, for me, is the Diana, a woman's bicycle produced by the Cortland Wagon Company in upstate New York in 1894.  It large rubber front wheel is red and the bicycle measures 45 inches in height.   The bicycle, like the automobile, has been a vehicle of mobility and freedom, precious commodities in the lives of women,  then as now.
 The 'Women's Edition' unlike the ghetto that was regular women's pages in newspapers a century ago, allowed them to particulate - if only for a day and for charitable fund-raising purposes - in all aspects of producing the paper.  Usually published on holidays, these editions were often referred  to as 'Charity Editions', with what overtones you may suspect.  They were the brainchild of  the then popular women's clubs.  From small town newspapers to the nation's flagship publications such as the San Francisco Examiner and the Buffalo Courier, women took over.  We know little about Alice Glenny Russell, but one thing we do know: she was the rare woman to have her work included in Cheret's series.   Ethel Reed (1874-after 1920) from Boston, somewhat better known, is the only other one I have found.

Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress, an exhibition at the Shaeffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University, January 24 - March 17, 2013.

Images: Syracuse University Art Galleries, Syracuse, NY.
1. Jules Cheret - Exposition: Tableaux & Dessins de A. Willette, 1888.
2. Maurice Debis - La Depeche de Toulouse The Toulouse Dispatch - a newspaper) , 1892.
3. Georges Meunier - Trianon Concert, 1897.
4. Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen - Two Women Looking at a Window Display, 1896.
5. Ferdinand Misti-Mifliez - Cycles Gladiator, 1896.
6. Alice Russell Glenny - Women's Edition - Buffalo Courier, 1895.
7. Ethel Reed - Miss Traumerei, 1895.


willc said...

It seems a bit strange to me that Cheret would have designed the poster for this exhibition of paintings and drawings by Adolphe Léon Willette (1857-1926), but there it is. Willette was himself an adept designer of posters, but perhaps those came later through his association with Cheret. Here is a link to an especially ebullient example of a Cheret-influenced poster by Willette, produced circa 1900-1905 for the Paris lithographers "Ateliers F. Hugo D'Alesi," and advertising the PLM train service to Nice. Another version includes a banner at top announcing the "Carnaval de Nice." The poster is partly datable by the depiction of a motor car in the lower left corner next to the printer's colophon.

Tania said...

It's too far to go there but I would like very much seeing this exhibition. Thank you for the beautiful presentation, Jane.
A Swiss tourist attacked in India - "a male escort at her side when she ventured out" not enough in 2013 !

Jane said...

Willc, I don't know the circumstances but I'll take a guess. Jules Cheret's work was so respected that an artist less well known might have welcomed his imprimatur to attract attention. There was a poster by Hugo d'Alesi featured prominently in the exhibition "Nouveau Rsique." (His famous one that shows a woman wearing black gloves, examining prints at a street kiosk.)

Jane said...

Tania, I wish I had taken a photo of the Diana bicycle. The red rubber tires are just the thing. Think of riding a cycle named after the goddess of the hunt.