Printmaking in Paris was at its highpoint from 1890 to 1905 – a time in which prints were raised to the level of high art and only seen in private collections, theatres and exclusive galleries - but also decorated the city's boulevards and cafe walls. Prints were designed for elite private collectors, but also for the masses.
It was a unique time where avant-garde art was combined with the everyday life of modern Parisians. Artists not only threw themselves into the work of high art, but also what was considered lower art forms – such as decorative designs, prints, posters and magazine illustrations.
Image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s December 1891 poster for the dance hall Le Moulin Rouge. Three thousand copies of this advertisement were displayed in the streets of Paris, making Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec famous overnight, and seen as one of the greatest print designers of all time.
Artists experimented with different print techniques and weren’t afraid to create provocative artwork, which was then scattered throughout public places of the French capital.
Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum has an impressive collection of 1,800 French prints from this time period – and will be showcasing more than 250 of them in its Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street exhibition beginning in March.
Prints by Pierre Bonnard, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec will be on display, among other world-famous posters such as Le Chat Noir and Le Moulin Rouge.
Image:Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s 1896 poster for the tour of Le Chat Noir – a 19th century entertainment establishment from the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris.
Alongside the print collection, paintings, historical photographs furniture for collectors and decorative objects will help to present a rich picture of Parisian culture during the French fin de siècle.
The exhibition aims to tell the story of printmaking for fashionable art circles, where prints were viewed within the decorated interiors of the wealthy, to popular prints for the masses where fleeting impressions of modern life were found in the public sphere.
Image: Eugène Grasset’s 1894 poster Salon des Cent – a photomechanical reproduction in black, stencilled with watercolour on woven paper.
Salon de Cent was a commercial art exhibition in Paris, that sold colour posters, prints and reproductions of artwork to the general public at reasonable prices.
Prints for the public often took the form of artistic posters, sheet music and magazine illustrations with bright colours, large letters and silhouettes. The highlight of this category is Steinlen’s poster The Street.
Image:Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s 1896 advertisement poster The Street (La rue) for the printer Charles Verneau. The large poster was printed in six separate parts. It presents a contemporary street scene, with characters such as the capitalist, the laundrywoman, the elegant Parisian lady and the worker.
The exhibition finishes by showing a variety of printing techniques, with the original lithography press of the printer Auguste Clot (1858-1936) being the highlight. Trial proofs and videos explain the techniques of etching, woodcuts and lithography.
Image: Félix Vallotton’s 1896 Laziness (La paresse) woodcut poster. A woodcut revival in France towards the end of the 19th century was lead by Félix Vallotton. His career peaked between 1896 and 1898 with his black-and-white woodcuts drawn from Japanese printmaking.
Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street is on show at the Van Gogh Museum from March 3 to June 11. You can purchase tickets here.
To view and learn more of these prints, check out the museum’s extensive image bank.
The prints can be downloaded and used for non-commercial use.
Image: Hermann-Paul’s 1896 print Little Typewriters (Les petites machines à écrire), which is part of the album L’Album des peintres-graveurs.