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France • 1859−1923
Theophile Alexander Steinlen (Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, November 10, 1859, Lausanne - December 13, 1923, Paris) - French cartoonist, engraver, illustrator, designer, artist and sculptor of Swiss origin.

Features of Theophile Alexander Steinlen. Being self-taught, Theophile Alexander Steinlen inherited rich artistic traditions. Eugene Delacroix, Honore Daumier and Edouard Manet, which he rethought in genre scenes, political cartoons, as well as in a series of nudes, still lifes and portraits. A special place in the artist's work was occupied by cats, whose charm, grace, character and symbolic meaning attracted him from his school years. He used a wide variety of materials to paint, including crayons, ink, pencils, watercolors and charcoal, and his graphics influenced such great 20th-century artists as Pablo Picasso and Edward Hopper. The distribution of Steinlen's works into the “golden age” of the poster and magnificent illustrated periodicals made him one of the central figures of the European visual culture of the late XIX - early XX century.

Famous works of Theophile Alexander Steinlen... Cult poster cabaret "Black Cat".

Socialist artist

A native of Lausanne, Teofil Alexander Steinlen spent two years studying literature and philosophy at a local university, but then dropped out of his studies and began his career as a designer of printed fabrics. By the 21st year, the young man was still developing his artistic skills when the impressionist Francois Baution suggested he move to Paris. Steinlen settled in Montmartre and began visiting the artistic cabaret "Black Cat" (Le Chat Noir), founded by his compatriot Louis Rodolph Salis. There he met and became friends with the writers Paul Verlaine and Emile Zola, artists Jean-Louis Foren, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, By Felix Vallotton and many others. Visitors to the institution created something like a private club or a society of aesthetes.

Montmartre was famous not only his artistic commune. Numerous representatives of the working class lived there. After the abolition of censorship in France in 1881 and the adoption of a law on press freedom, the release of politically oriented art and literary publications flourished. Magazines, periodicals and newspapers, party proclamations and posters quickly flooded Paris with social discourse.

For artists like Stainlin, this was the perfect environment. During his life, he wrote only a few paintings, and almost completely devoted his career to the political press. The artist was a socialist, a champion of the rights of the working class, and after moving to Montmartre, he quickly found a common language with the left-wing community of France. He regularly participated in the preparation of numbers of the left satirical magazine Le Riremarxist Le Chambard Socialisteanarchist newspaper La feuille and so on, often for free.

In general, Steinlen, sometimes under pseudonyms, contributed to the publication of more than 30 journals. A special place among them took literary and artistic Gil blas, for which he, since 1891, made more than 400 drawings. The success of this particular magazine, where Zola and Guy de Maupassant published, brought the artist fame outside of France. He also illustrated a number of books, including The Rolling Stone by Maupassant and Crenkebil by Anatol France.

"Black Cat" and other cats

Like its contemporaries Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonso MuchaSteinlen was the prolific creator of posters for theaters and cabarets, which also greatly increased his popularity. In his favorite cabaret "The Black Cat", performers often performed songs about the workers. It was there that Steinlen met singer Aristide Bruin, and their collaboration continued for many years. Bruant’s performances were the embodiment of socialist priorities that attracted Steinlen — the singer sang songs about the lives of local workers and ridiculed the bourgeoisie. That is why the artist has designed so many posters for concerts at this cabaret, including the canonized poster of the Black Cat tour.

Anyone who has an idea about Steinlen’s work knows that cats were his most important subject. His love for these animals manifested itself in his childhood, when he made sketches on the margins of school notebooks. And in the house of the artist in Paris, as contemporaries said, all the cats of the adjacent quarter were fed. Initially, Steinlen changed the sketches of cats for food, and later they began to appear on most of his magazine illustrations, posters, and advertising posters, such as "Pure sterilized milk from Venzhanna", which also depicts his daughter Colette.

In addition, the cats were a symbol of Bohemia and, more specifically, bohemian women (a similar comparison can be traced from Steinlen’s younger colleague Zuguharu Fujita). The fact that many Parisian cats lived in Montmartre, free from domestication, was perceived as a metaphor for the rejection of bourgeois social norms. Most confidently and with humor, Steinlen presented the presence of cats in the artistic environment in the allegorical picture of 1905. "Apotheosis of Montmartre cats".

Large, frieze-like double pattern framed Jacques Dalbre's article about cats, published in March 1901 in an annex to the weekly L'Illustration. Some feline sketches were compiled into an undated publication “Cats. Images without words ”, and others, previously unknown, published Georges Lekomt under the heading“ Unpublished drawings of cats and other animals ”10 years after the artist’s death.

First World

Since the beginning of the First World War Steinlen - like many of his contemporaries such as Jean-Louis Forein and Auguste Rodin - changed the main direction of his work. He focused on the image of everyday life and the consequences of war for people. The main characters of his work were still women, children and the poor, but now they have become refugees, orphans, dead and resting soldiers. The artist generally avoided the battle scenes and political leaders, paying all attention to the misfortunes and ruin brought by the war, which many considered senseless.

Lithography "Exodus 1915"Also called the March of the Orphans, it depicts the evacuation from Belgium after the German attack. In 1914 - 1915, about 200 thousand people fled from Belgium, including many children who lost their parents. This work is relevant now, not only because of its visual nuances, but also because of the regrettable similarity with modern images of "displaced persons". In the foreground, the artist brought a man and a woman who lead a sea of children leaving the horizon — faceless figures transmitted by fast, sweeping lines.

Steinlen, like Foren, drew attention to the tragic contradictions of the war. He called one of his most famous military works "Glory". Her heroines, four women in black — a mother, a wife, and two sisters — mourn the dead soldier, whose coffin is decorated with a French flag and a palm branch. This color print sample, rare during the First World War, represents the loss and destruction that inevitably accompanies the "glory" of war.

Another significant engraving of that period was "Mobilization, or" Marseillaise "", which captured the universal appeal in Paris on August 2, 1914, on the eve of the German invasion. This work, permeated by French patriotism, contradicts Steinlen’s antiwar sentiments. Expressive lines, full of movement, a sea of flags and the figure of Marianna - the personification of freedom and reason - reflect the tension of the moment. The name “Marseillaise” makes it clear that the imprint is a symbol of unity in the struggle for freedom.

Exhibitions, bronze and leather covers

The first personal exhibition of paintings and drawings by Theophile Alexander Steinlen was organized by Galerie La Bodinière in 1894, and during the 1890s he exhibited at the annual Independent Salons. Another significant retrospective of the artist took place in the Paris Galerie Saint-Georges in 1903.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Stainlin began to sculpt. He created several small bronze statues of cats, which are considered one of his best works. In addition, from 1904, the artist returned to the design, cutting out about a hundred samples of bindings for books that came out in limited edition from the skin.

In the Autumn Salon of 1909 a whole room was set aside for the works of Theophile Alexander Steinlen, and in 1913 there was a personal exhibition in the artist’s homeland, in Lausanne. He continued to work and exhibit until his death from a heart attack in 1923. He was buried in the small Saint-Vincent cemetery in Montmartre.

Author: Vlad Maslov
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