Art / Performance / Education
Les Maitres de l’Affiche (The Masters of the Poster) published 1895-1900 is one of the most prestigious and influential art publications in history.
This series features the most outstanding posters of the late 19th century when this popular art form had reached its peak.
During the 19th century the poster celebrated its golden era. Under the hands of Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha and Steinlen, the poster attained new-found status as an innovative art form. By the 1890s, the streets of every great metropolis were enlivened by large, colorful posters. The poster had not only caught the eye of the public, but it’s best examples were already being regarded as works of art, to be exhibited, reviewed in journals and collected.
In 1895, the Imprimerie Chaix firm published reduced chromolithographic versions of over 200 top-flight posters by more than 90 great artists. Of the 97 artists represented all were prominent artists of the day. This Chaix publication 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. Maitre’s were never issued in a book form, but a binding of the 12 months of Maitres was offered to subscribers at the end of the year with a beautiful hardcover design by Paul Berthon for 8 francs.
Les 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 from a design of Cheret’s. Each overall plate measures approximately 11 3/8 in. x 15 3/4 inches (29 cm x 40 cm).
In addition to the 240 posters, Special plates (or bonus plates) were issued to subscribers. There were a total of 16 special plates, which were sent over the five years, each December, June, March and September of the final three years. These were not posters, but unique original lithographs done exclusively for the Les Maitres de l’Affiche 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 installment, 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, Denis, Bonnard and 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, Beggarstaffs, Grasset, Penfield, Parrish, Bradley, Hardy… the list could go on and on.” (Appelbaum p.iii)
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. A very high quality of paper was used, whereas the large format posters were printed on lesser quality newsprint, due to cost and a short expected life span. This explains why the quality of the printing, in Les Maitres de l’Affiche usually far exceeds that of their larger counterparts.