Volume 21, Issue 1 | Spring 2022

Solidarity by Design: Legitimizing Jules Chéret’s Poster Aesthetic as Republican Civic Decoration

by Katherine Brion

In 1880, the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans ended his review of the annual Salon by suggesting that the commercial color posters of Jules Chéret (1836–1932)—the artist largely responsible for the success of this new form of commercial art in France‍[1]—could serve as a cathartic and stimulating antidote to this presentation of “high” art:

I can only . . . advise those disgusted, like myself, by this insolent display of prints and canvases, to cleanse their eyes outside, through a prolonged stop in front of those palisades where Chéret’s astonishing fantasies burst forth, colored fantasies so energetically drawn and so vividly painted.‍[2]

Huysmans would go on to align this advice with a rejection of bourgeois society and its values, foregrounding and celebrating the erotic, pathological character of the “demented, nearly explosive joy” encapsulated in Chéret’s posters.‍[3] Over a decade later, in response to the affichomanie (poster mania) inspired by Huysmans,‍[4] the conservative Catholic critic Maurice Talmeyr (1840–1931) offered an alternative view of the poster as epitomizing rather than contesting a French bourgeois society that had embraced democracy and, especially, capitalism under the Third Republic: “the poster is the art, and almost the only art,” he declared, “of this age of fever and laughter, of struggle, of ruin, of electricity and oblivion.”‍[5]

Little in these accounts explains how the author of the French poster’s commercial success could become an appropriate candidate to decorate a civic building. Yet, in 1895 Chéret was charged with the decoration of a room adjacent to the main ceremonial space (the Salle des fêtes) of Paris’s Hôtel de Ville (figs. 1, 2), situating his work alongside that of established artists like the much-revered Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–98). Though this commission has generally been viewed as a symptom of the Third Republic’s efforts to engage, in the name of democracy, with an “eclectic” range of art styles, I will demonstrate that there was a deeper logic to Chéret’s selection.‍[6] The artist’s work won a place in the Hôtel de Ville not merely as an extension of the decorative program’s aesthetic range, but also for its synthesis of modern vitality with “decorative” harmony. Fin-de-siècle design reformers, notably art critic and administrator Roger Marx (1859–1913), argued that Chéret’s work revealed the principles crucial to success in all decorative art, whether printed ephemera, site-specific decorations, or arts such as tapestry.‍[7] These arts were considered crucial to democratize beauty and usher in a long-awaited modern French style, thus suggesting the way in which Chéret’s art might serve the greater good of society and the nation—in keeping with the edifying, didactic purpose of civic decoration. Furthermore, the critical emphasis on the balance struck in Chéret’s work between modern stimulus and decorative harmony aligned it with the ideal of social solidarity. The decorative aesthetic generated by the poster could, therefore, be embraced and displayed in the Hôtel de Ville as a worthy example of the republic’s achievements and its potential.

figure 1
Fig. 1, Henri Manuel (publisher), Hôtel de Ville: Salle de la Troisième Commission (Salon Chéret) (Hôtel de Ville: Room of the Third Commission [Chéret Room]), view facing the north and east walls, early twentieth century. Photomechanical print. Published in Album de la Ville de Paris (Paris: H. Manuel, n.d.), n.p. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
figure 2
Fig. 2, Salle de la Commission de voirie (Meeting Room of the Committee on Roads), view facing the east and south walls, ca. 1908. Photomechanical print. Published in Lucien Lambeau, L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris (Paris: Librairie Renouard, H. Laurens, Éditeur, 1908), plate 49. Image courtesy of the Internet Archive.

By revealing the centrality of the overlapping frameworks of decoration and social solidarity to the legitimization of Chéret’s commercial art, my examination of his posters and Hôtel de Ville commission contributes to a growing body of scholarship on the public import of the fin-de-siècle discourse on decorative aesthetics, which has more often been associated with the private and the intimate.‍[8] Having marked a successful breach in the aesthetically conservative realm of civic decoration, Chéret’s ensemble was celebrated as a public victory for design reform, modern art, and progressive politics.‍[9]

Chéret in the Hôtel de Ville

Chéret’s ensemble of paintings remains in its original location, once the meeting room of a municipal committee. Executed in a color palette and style similar to his posters, they cover the walls of this rectangular room from wainscoting to ceiling. The playful subject matter—Pantomime, Music, Comedy, Dance, and Toys, sometimes referred to collectively as The Joys of Life (Les Joies de la vie)—was likewise familiar from his wider oeuvre and had already featured (minus Toys) in a set of wall prints Chéret produced in 1891 for interiors.‍[10] Located alongside double doors (each topped by one of the décor’s four overdoor panels) on the room’s shorter walls, two large, rectangular paintings visually anchor the decoration.‍[11] They are focused on two facets of French theater, Comedy and Pantomime. The first highlights the classical form of French comedy established by the playwright Molière and continued by the Comédie Française; the second centers on a more popular form of French comedic theatre, adapted from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, which derived its effect from gesture and facial expression rather than language. Comedy (fig. 3) revolves around Monsieur Jourdain from Molière’s The Middle-Class Aristocrat (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), who is framed by a swirling cast of female and male characters drawn from Molière’s plays, among them Scapin, from Scapin the Schemer (Les Fourberies de Scapin); Harpagon, from The Miser (L’Avare); and Argan from The Hypochondriac (Le Malade imaginaire).‍[12] Pantomime (fig. 4) foregrounds Pierrot, who is surrounded by other stock Commedia dell’Arte characters, including Polichinelle (Punch) and Harlequin.

figure 3
Fig. 3, Jules Chéret, Comedie (Comedy), 1903. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; photograph © Peter Willi/Bridgeman Images.
figure 4
Fig. 4, Jules Chéret, Pantomime, 1903. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; photograph © Peter Willi/Bridgeman Images.

It is noteworthy that, in a departure from Chéret’s posters, the central figures in these two paintings are male. This masculine emphasis was perhaps a nod to the space’s primary use by municipal councilors. However, Chéret countered it with an abundance of female figures in the irregular spaces of the room’s longer walls, where alluring feminine types, with the plunging necklines and slender, tapering legs so familiar from his posters, frolic, dance, and make music (see figs. 5–7).‍[13] Many of them are larger and closer to the picture plane than the figures in Comedy and Pantomime, especially the female musicians located between the arched windows on the long, western wall. Across from them, on the eastern wall, chains of dancers circle and rise over the central double door. To the right of this door, the dancers culminate in a foreground dancer dressed in green, adorned with red roses, one foot en pointe as if pushing off of the wainscoting. Her counterpart to the left of the door, dressed in yellow and paired with another, darker female dancer, is airborne and turned away from the viewer. Yet she, like the dancer in green, looks out at the viewer and smiles.

figure 5
Fig. 5, Jules Chéret, Sketch for the decoration of the Hôtel de Ville (eastern wall), including depictions of Toys, Dance, and Musical Instruments, 1896. Pencil and gouache on paper in a mat frame. Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Paris Musées.
figure 6
Fig. 6, Jules Chéret, decoration of the Hôtel de Ville (detail showing La Danse [Dance]), 1903. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Emilie Chaix/Ville de Paris.
figure 7
Fig. 7, Jules Chéret, decoration of the Hôtel de Ville (detail showing the eastern wall), 1903. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Emilie Chaix/Ville de Paris.

Women also play significant roles in the rectangular panels. In addition to the mocking female servant who accompanies Monsieur Jourdain in Comedy, a woman holding out two masks and dressed in Chéret’s characteristic yellow stands out from the crowd of figures behind this pair. The critic Achille Ségard identified her as a representation of the Parisienne (the fashionable Parisian woman), thus highlighting the contemporary resonance of the comic folly satirized in the theatrical tradition on display around her.‍[14]

figure 8
Fig. 8, Jules Chéret (designer) and Imprimerie Chaix (Succursale Chéret) (printer), Bal au Moulin Rouge (Ball at the Moulin Rouge), 1889. Color lithographic poster. Musée Carnavalet, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Paris Musées.

Pierrot is similarly paired with a female companion, placed just to his left along a contrasting, diagonal axis. Her costume and pose resemble the foreground figure in Chéret’s 1889 poster for the Ball at the Moulin Rouge (Bal au Moulin Rouge, Place Blanche; fig. 8). Like the silhouette of the windmill visible behind her, this reference situates Pantomime firmly in the working-class, increasingly commercialized neighborhood of Montmartre.‍[15] At the time when Chéret painted this work, it would have reminded viewers of Pierrot’s most recent manifestation as a key symbol of a co-opted but irrepressible Bohemia—a figure of satirical violence more than poetic melancholy, who served as a cynical witness to Montmartre’s commercial effervescence.‍[16] Along with the artist Adolphe Willette, Chéret had played an important role in constructing that modern image of Pierrot, through his illustration of Huysmans and Léon Hennique’s Pierrot the Sceptic (Pierrot sceptique; 1881) and his later participation in the Cercle Funambulesque.‍[17] The location of this panel across from Comedy thus sets up an opposition not only between the elite art of the Comédie Française and the popular pantomime of the Commedia dell’Arte, but also between established tradition and a more subversive, modern Bohemia.‍[18]

It is thus not a surprise that contemporary commentators saw in Chéret’s decoration a dose of the poster’s provocative seduction and mockery, one that teased the municipal councilors and other upper-class visitors in a space that was supposed to confirm their power.‍[19] A critic going by the name Chambry read a warning from one of the Hôtel de Ville’s attendants to “Watch out for the paint(ing)!” as an ironic commentary on the contrast between Chéret’s work and the grand character of the rest of the decoration; Ségard similarly portrayed Chéret’s feminine muse as laughing at official art.‍[20] The impression of mockery is reinforced by the prominence of Monsieur Jourdain, as well as his contrast with Pierrot. Monsieur Jourdain’s size, stance, and outward gaze proclaims his sense of entitlement; yet, as in the play, his aristocratic pretensions make him a figure of derision for his female servant and the viewer. This weighty, pompous figure offers an uncomfortable role model for the room’s similarly bourgeois occupants. Despite Monsieur Jourdain’s declamatory gestures and firmly planted feet, the silent, free-floating Pierrot seems more a master of his surroundings.

The Legacy of Civic Decoration and Its Application in the Hôtel de Ville

How did this send-up of bourgeois pomposity, in which Bohemian spectacle appeared triumphant, end up in the Hôtel de Ville? Placing Chéret’s work in this setting inevitably measured it against a long-standing ideal of public decoration. As early as 1848, the critic Théophile Gautier had promoted site-specific mural painting as a suitably republican endeavor, contrasting its collective character with the “art for art’s sake” individuality of easel painting.‍[21] He would go on to play a key role in articulating and promoting a “mural aesthetic” deemed appropriate to public, civic sites.‍[22] As Aimée Brown Price and Marie Jeannine Aquilino have emphasized, this suitability was defined by the integration of mural painting with architecture: the anti-illusionistic formal effects of the mural aesthetic—a simplified, flattened treatment of subject matter, characterized by clearly defined contours and unmodulated areas of color, the avoidance of trompe l’oeil or perspectival effects, and a restrained, matte finish—reinforced the wall’s planar surface.‍[23] For Gautier, this prioritization of the architectural ensemble over virtuoso handling and fine detail was a proxy for the proper relation of the individual to a greater, collective endeavor.‍[24] The hand of the artist and the particularities of the subject were subordinated to their civic setting and purpose. Though the apotheosis of the mural aesthetic was to occur, ironically, during the Second Empire, the early Third Republic’s substantial investment in the decoration of civic institutions affirmed Gautier’s initial association of such work with democracy and republican governance.‍[25] These decorative programs became one means through which the Third Republic sought to affirm itself in the face of multiple existential challenges, educate its citizens, and inculcate republican pride, unity, and civic virtue.‍[26]

The association of large-scale decoration and the mural aesthetic with civic virtue was, for the most part, sustained in Paris’s Hôtel de Ville, a site of particular national significance. In addition to serving as the administrative seat of the city of Paris, the urban heart of a highly centralized nation, the Hôtel de Ville was a testament to the Third Republic’s successful passage through an early trial by fire. Burned down in the 1871 confrontation between the troops of the newly instituted republic and the members of the revolutionary Paris Commune, the building was reconstructed as a symbol of the republic’s triumph, with the intent of endowing it, through its decorative program, with “the character and physiognomy that French democracy requires.”‍[27] The site’s decorative program had in fact served as a means for Paris’s democratically elected municipal council to assert its prerogative over the visual representation of the city and the French Republic. Having rejected the decorative program recommended by the Beaux-Arts administration’s appointed architect, which prescribed an overall decorative unity grounded in traditional allegories, the municipal council formed an advisory committee to direct what was to be a much more open-ended process. This committee was composed predominantly of municipal councilors and figures with relevant expertise in the arts and/or architecture, as well as the building’s two architects and a handful of government administrators. Though its recommendations required final approval by the municipal council, and some of the decorative program was determined through juried competitions, the advisory committee played the key, defining role in the building’s decoration.‍[28]

The committee’s expressed desire was to embrace “all manifestations of contemporary reality,” especially as it pertained to Paris, and all artistic schools.‍[29] Despite the inclusive character and contemporary emphasis of this mandate, one of the most lauded decorations was in the allegorical mode, by an artist whose work had come to exemplify the civic high-mindedness of the mural aesthetic: Puvis de Chavannes. Two decorations by the artist, Summer (L’Été; figs. 9, 10) and Winter (L’Hiver; fig. 11; see fig. 12 for a later, smaller version of the painting), accompanied by four paintings in neighboring spandrels, still occupy facing walls of one of the building’s two reception rooms (the Salon de Zodiaque). As Jennifer Shaw has emphasized, these paintings constitute a “moral catechism” that foregrounds duties more than rights.‍[30] Those who ascend the visitors’ staircase and enter this reception room first encounter Winter, a work that foregrounds virtuous, dutiful behavior—the laying up of provisions, the succoring of the poor—in the face of a hardship underscored by the angular, rectilinear character of a harsh, wintry landscape drained of color. Only upon turning around would the visitor see the apparent reward for these travails in Summer, whose easier harmony is proclaimed by the nudity of the figures and the alignment of their simplified, ascetic forms with those of the gentle landscape they inhabit. The solemnity of the figures, and their integration with their surroundings, was seen by contemporaries as endowing the depicted subject with a serene, harmonious character appropriate to decoration. The paintings’ integration with their architectural frame accentuated this effect. Puvis de Chavannes’s muted colors, elimination of chiaroscuro effects, and matte, sometimes scumbled, surfaces defer to the wall. The pallor of Winter’s snow and Summer’s nudes, and the otherwise darker, earthy tonalities of their seasonal landscapes are particularly suited to the surrounding stone and wood, and the vertical forms of the depicted trees echo the geometry of the coffered ceiling and wainscoting.

figure 9
Fig. 9, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Été (Summer), 1891. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Déborah Lesage/Ville de Paris.
figure 10
Fig. 10, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Sketch for L’Été (Summer), 1891. Oil on canvas. Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Paris Musées.
figure 11
Fig. 11, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Hiver (Winter), 1891. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Déborah Lesage/Ville de Paris.
figure 12
Fig. 12, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Hiver (Winter), 1896. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Aside from lamenting the fact that the space’s lighting failed to do justice to this ensemble, the committee was so appreciative of the artist’s contribution that it begged him to complete an additional decorative ensemble for the ceiling over the grand staircase, which was to be dedicated to the glory of Paris.‍[31] Puvis de Chavannes fulfilled this brief by depicting Victor Hugo honoring the city in a central ceiling panel (fig. 13). Though the surrounding architectural frame prevented him from integrating all the elements of the décor into one or more unified scenes, he offered another form of unity by providing a set of accompanying allegorical representations that alluded to and served to synthesize the decorative programs of the neighboring spaces.‍[32] It was this kind of orchestration that led Roger Marx to praise Puvis de Chavannes for successfully maintaining the principles of decorative unity and the mural aesthetic in the Hôtel de Ville’s otherwise heterogeneous array of artists, subjects, and styles.‍[33] He suggested that the artist’s work was particularly suited to republican civic institutions, for it “subordinate[d] itself to the gray or chalky stone of buildings raised to exalt civic and social duty, to glorify art and thought.”‍[34] Puvis de Chavannes’s work lent this message of civic duty and glory a transcendent character, for it fulfilled mural painting’s charge “to steal us away from ourselves, away from the present, anywhere out of the world.” According to Marx, this approach encouraged viewers “to scorn the ephemeral, and hope for a temporary respite from fever and anguish.”‍[35]

figure 13
Fig. 13, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Hommage de Victor Hugo à la Ville de Paris (Victor Hugo Paying Homage to the City of Paris), 1894. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Guillaume Bontemps/Ville de Paris.

Chéret in the Street: The Commercial Poster

Nothing would seem further from Marx’s conception of Puvis de Chavannes’s art and of mural decoration than Chéret’s advertisements. The poster artist’s virtuoso lithographic technique, honed in England, had resulted in colorful, image-based advertising of a size and quality unprecedented in France (an achievement that would earn him the Legion of Honor in 1890 for his application of art to industry and commerce). It was particularly well positioned to seize the economic opportunities and prominent sites of display opened up by Haussmannization and the Third Republic’s liberalization of the press and commerce.‍[36] As a result, and in sharp contrast to the timeless order and harmony on display in Puvis de Chavannes’s site-specific decorations, Chéret’s ephemeral color posters promoted a changing array of modern experiences and products—whether protocinematographic and cinematographic spectacles, the commodified leisure of venues like cabarets and dance halls, beauty and wellness products, or the commerce of department stores—all over the city. Their vivid color, striking forms, and eroticized imagery provided multiple sources of stimulation, most often concentrated in and around a central female figure. These features are evident in posters like Land of the Fairies (Le Pays des fées; fig. 14), as well as in Luminous Pantomimes (Pantomimes lumineuses; fig. 15), advertisements for an 1889 Exposition Universelle amusement park ride and a protocinematic projection of moving images at the Musée Grévin. The former’s central fairy smiles as she turns her body toward the viewer and splays her legs, reaching down as if to hike up her gauzy skirt and display even more of her flesh. Bright yellow highlights and suggestive shadows emphasize the throw of her hip, the swell of her breasts, and the juncture of her legs. Though the central figure of Luminous Pantomimes is more demure, both posters foreground a set of dynamic movements and contrasts. The diagonal orientation and splayed legs of the fairy, the arced form of the pale Pierrot behind Luminous Pantomimes’s central figure, and the women’s billowing skirts, for example, contribute to a frenetic action designed to capture viewers’ attention. This dynamism revolves around their primary, seductive motifs: female figures designed, via their stark, outlined forms and the vibrant, primary yellow of their dresses, to stand out vividly (like the accompanying commercial text) against a drab and/or crowded urban backdrop (fig. 16).‍[37]

figure 14
Fig. 14, Jules Chéret (designer) and Imprimerie Chaix (Succursale Chéret) (printer), Le Pays des fées, Jardin Enchanté (The Land of the Fairies, Enchanted Garden), 1889. Color lithographic poster. Musée Carnavalet, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Paris Musées.
figure 15
Fig. 15, Jules Chéret (designer) and Imprimerie Chaix (Ateliers Chéret) (printer), Pantomimes lumineuses, Théâtre optique de E. Reynaud (Luminous Pantomimes, E. Reynaud’s Optical Theater), 1892. Color lithographic poster. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.
figure 16
Fig. 16, Jean-Eugène Auguste Atget, Maison de la tête noire, puis de la Barbe d’or, 39, rue des Bourdonnais (House of the Black Head, Later, of the Golden Beard, 39, rue des Bourdonnais), 1908, with Chéret’s poster for Pastilles Géraudel (initial design 1895) displayed at the street corner, just below the street sign for rue des Bourdonnais. Albumen print. George Eastman Museum, Rochester. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.

It was these kinds of attractions that led Talmeyr to identify the poster as the symbol of its time, which he described as “this age of fever and laughter, of struggle, of ruin, of electricity and oblivion.”‍[38] He believed that the poster—with its “variable, striking images that enervate and call out to the passerby, flattering him, provoking him, pulling at him, laughing in his face and soliciting him”—inflamed individuals’ desires to the detriment of any moral imperative.‍[39] This vision of the poster presented a sharp contrast with the ideal of public decoration. Indeed, part of Talmeyr’s diatribe against the poster was devoted to its contrast with the “stately” art of the traditional monument:

The monument of the past, with all of the arts it encompassed—painting, sculpture, ornaments, and decorations of all kinds— . . . spoke to the crowd of little more than its social or religious duty. . . . The poster, in contrast, only speaks to us of ourselves, our pleasures, our tastes, our interests, our food, our health, our life, our vices.‍[40]

The poster’s destructive impact in society was epitomized, he argued, by the triumph of its transience over the erstwhile permanence of the monument and the duties it enjoined.‍[41]

Though Talmeyr’s perspective was clearly extreme, his view that the poster was incompatible with the venerable monuments with which it rubbed shoulders was not unique. Indeed, similar views seem to have inspired the critical reactions to the proposal that Chéret’s art grace the Hôtel de Ville. Chéret’s name was first put forward in February 1890 by the critic and arts administrator Philippe Burty, then a new member of the advisory committee in charge of the building’s decoration. He emphasized the revolution enacted by Chéret in advertising and the consequent transformation of the street into “a charming popular museum.” He presented Chéret’s “modern,” “Parisian” art as an appropriate, worthy addition to the building’s decorative program, especially given the ambition that it represent the diversity of French art.‍[42] Though his proposal received some support, Burty reported to his fellow critic and administrator Marx that some of the committee members were deeply shocked, and the ensuing discussion led the committee to set the suggestion aside in favor of other business.‍[43] It was nevertheless pursued with increasing seriousness over the next few years, thanks to the presence of stalwart supporters and collaborators of Chéret among its members.‍[44] The idea met with opposition, however, from municipal councilor Frédéric Hattat, a moderate republican who had presided during the initial debates over the Hôtel de Ville’s decorative program—debates that had produced the very same advisory committee that weighed whether to include Chéret’s art. In those earlier proceedings, Hattat had shown a strong concern for the decorative unity of the building’s décor.‍[45] He also happened to be a member of an association dedicated to the preservation of the city’s artworks and monuments (the Société des Amis des Monuments Parisiens), that had campaigned against the aesthetic threat posed by large-scale urban advertising.‍[46]

In response to preliminary sketches submitted by Chéret for the committee’s consideration in 1895, Hattat expressed his admiration for the artist but suggested that his submission was more suited to a concert hall or theater than an official monument.‍[47] It was also out of keeping, he suggested, with the room’s primary function as the meeting site of the municipal council’s committee on roads and other public works (he and the other members evidently missed the connection that might have been made between the management of the city’s urban fabric and the origins of Chéret’s commercial and artistic success). Hattat also raised these concerns within the broader audience of the council’s committee for education and the fine arts.

It should be noted that certain concessions had been made to modern painting in the Hôtel de Ville. Some of the decoration challenged established practice through its naturalism or the incorporation of an impressionist color and/or facture (something Ségard would later highlight in Chéret’s work), as epitomized by Albert Besnard’s Truth Leading the Sciences behind Her Illuminates Mankind (La Vérité entraînant les Sciences à sa suite répand sa lumière sur les hommes; 1889–91; fig. 17). Other decorations foregrounded pleasure and play, as in the case of Alfred Roll’s The Joys of Life: Women, Flowers, Music (Les Joies de la vie: femmes, fleurs, musique; 1895) and the decoration of the Salle des fêtes, especially Aimé Morot’s representation of the history of dance (fig. 18), in which a yellow-garbed eighteenth-century dancer bears some resemblance to Chéret’s favorite female type.‍[48] However, none of them combined aesthetic innovation and a lighthearted subject: like most of the decorative program’s subjects, the seriousness of Besnard’s subject was evident, while Roll’s and Morot’s were more academic in execution. All three artists were associated with the fine arts rather than mass culture, and Morot’s and Besnard’s subjects were directly justified by the function or decorative program of the rooms they adorned. Even in relation to these works, Chéret constituted an outlier, and Besnard’s and Roll’s decorations had, in fact, met with resistance and critique despite the more liberal outlook of Paris’s municipal government and its committees.

figure 17
Fig. 17, Albert Besnard, La Vérité entraînant les Sciences à sa suite répand sa lumière sur les hommes (Truth Leading the Sciences behind Her Illuminates Mankind), 1889–91. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy Jean-Baptiste Gurliat/Ville de Paris.
figure 18
Fig. 18, Aimé Morot, La Danse à travers les âges (Dance across the Ages), 1888. Oil on canvas. Hôtel de Ville, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy Guillaume Bontemps/Ville de Paris.

Hattat’s concerns were, nevertheless, eventually brushed aside by the decoration committee. Chéret’s supporters highlighted the modest character of the proposed room, its association with the festive function of the neighboring Salle des fêtes, and the “decorative” character of his work in order to justify his selection.‍[49] Taking advantage of Hattat’s absence at one of its meetings, the committee decided to recommend Chéret for the commission. It was initially interested in tapestry designs and held on to this option late into the process, but Chéret’s paintings were ultimately retained as the final decoration.‍[50] The ensemble was installed in the Hôtel de Ville in 1902 and received final, official approval in 1903.‍[51]

The Decorative and Social Legitimization of Chéret’s Art

The awarding of the Hôtel de Ville commission to Chéret over concerns about its suitability as civic decoration was ultimately due to a small handful of committee members who insisted upon its inclusion. Yet, the origins of this success lie in a longer campaign in support of Chéret and the poster. As noted earlier, Huysmans’s celebration of Chéret’s work drew the attention of other critics, as did Chéret’s participation in various anti-academic literary and artistic associations, whether that of the Incohérents or the Têtes de Bois.‍[52] As Karen Carter and Segolène Le Men have highlighted, writers like Huysmans and Félicien Champsaur leveraged their appreciation for Chéret’s commercial posters in the formation of a distinct authorial identity.‍[53] While these figures emphasized the subversive contrast between this imagery’s artistic value and its degraded, commercial character (including through its connection with pantomime), print collectors and historians like Ernest Maindron and Henri Béraldi worked to lend it legitimacy by situating Chéret’s posters within a historical tradition of printmaking.‍[54] Maindron portrayed Chéret’s work as the culmination of this tradition’s technical and artistic innovation in writings and, eventually, in an exhibition of posters within the 1889 Universal Exposition.‍[55] This exhibition was followed by an even more significant retrospective of Chéret’s work at the Théâtre d’Application La Bodinière (1889–90), which included pastels, drawings, sketches, and various kinds of prints in addition to posters. The exhibition and catalogue, prefaced by Marx, was covered widely in the press and sanctioned Chéret’s growing reputation as not only a commercial designer but also an artist.‍[56] Along with a new, 1889 essay on Chéret by Huysmans, from which Marx drew inspiration in his preface, it played a key role in the “poster mania” of the ensuing decade: a range of activities that reframed the poster as a work of art, in part through art criticism in the press or specialized publications like L’Estampe et l’affiche (The Print and the Poster).‍[57] Posters were marketed by print publishers and dealers catering directly to collectors and produced by artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard looking to benefit from the poster’s new cachet.‍[58]

Decorative Aesthetics and Decoration

I introduced Marx as an admirer of Puvis de Chavannes’s timeless paintings, which would seem to rule him out as a proponent of the poster. Yet, he was to become one of its staunchest supporters, able to appreciate it as encapsulating an ephemeral Parisian modern art in the Baudelairean sense: “the one half of art, of which the other half is the eternal and the immutable.”‍[59] Marx was a key participant in an important facet of the poster’s artistic legitimization: discourses that compared it to fresco or tapestry, as a modern form of the decoration that traditionally graced monuments and other sites of public display.‍[60] Beginning with his 1889 preface to the catalogue of the Chéret exhibition at the Théâtre d’Application, Marx argued that Chéret’s lithographs displayed an “instinctive understanding of decoration” and deplored the fact that he had not yet been commissioned to work on a grand scale, whether in tapestry or on a ceiling.‍[61] Writing about the same exhibition in Le National, the collector and critic John Grand-Carteret viewed Chéret’s posters in a less consequential light yet nevertheless connected the inadvertent public “décor” they had established in the street with the city’s efforts to decorate its schools and town halls.‍[62] By the time Maindron published a follow-up to his work on the poster in 1896, he too would identify it as a modern form of fresco painting.‍[63]

The recurring emphasis on the poster’s “decorative” character was about more than the fact that posters were affixed to walls. As Marx highlighted in his 1889 catalogue preface and his later writings on the artist, he believed that Chéret’s art fulfilled and thereby revived “decoration’s ancient, essential laws,” principles that Marx and other design reformers sought to promote across a host of applied artistic practices.‍[64] According to Marx, such arts needed to follow the example of Chéret’s commercial advertisements, which “modeled an absolute respect for the necessities of fitness and function [destination]. Everything in them is determined by the role the poster must play, the place it must occupy.”‍[65] In other words, successful decoration was characterized both by its fitness to purpose and by the harmony it established with its site, whether an architectural setting or an object. Decoration’s accordance with its destination also derived from the artist’s engagement with the materials and medium best suited to its function and setting—in the case of the poster, the technology of lithography. As Laura Anne Kalba has highlighted, discourses on the poster foregrounded criteria that would become central to modern art, architecture, and design: fitness to purpose, truth to materials, and the artist’s ability to make the most of the selected method of fabrication.‍[66]

When critics hailed Chéret’s work for its “decorative” character, they were highlighting the artist’s capacity to generate works in harmony with the multifaceted concerns of their destination. In response to Talmeyr’s criticism of the color poster’s eye-catching, stimulating imagery, Marx highlighted the importance of emphatic arabesques and striking colors to the function and location of urban advertising:

[A poster] only succeeds in [embellishing and adorning the wall that receives it] if it fulfills the laws of mural decoration. This point occurs to few of the detractors quick to criticize the effects of an approach [technique] called for by the poster’s purpose and context [destination]. . . . Without a strongly accented arabesque, the composition would be illegible at a distance and impossible to grasp in its entirety [ensemble] at first glance. Outdoor exhibition likewise, and just as absolutely, requires colors vibrant enough to resonate in the harsh daylight.‍[67]

This statement nevertheless suggests that the elements that ensured the poster fulfilled its purpose also posed a potential threat to the harmonious beauty expected of decoration—as indicated by Marx’s evocation of the poster’s “detractors.” Yet, as Chéret himself highlighted, the strength of his posters lay in his ability to deploy line and color to create effects that were simultaneously eye-catching and harmonious. In so doing, he achieved an equilibrium between seemingly antithetical demands: that of advertising, that is to say, the imperative to attract attention and quickly convey a message; and that of decoration, which entailed complementing and enhancing the poster’s urban surroundings.‍[68]

A return to Land of the Fairies and Luminous Pantomimes demonstrates how Chéret drew on one of the strengths of the lithographic medium—its capacity to (re)produce painterly effects—to harmonize his posters’ simplified forms and flat expanses of vivid color. He superimposed colors to temper or heighten them and to achieve a wider tonal range from a limited palette, while the gradation from warm to cool hues in the background (especially evident in Land of the Fairies) brought balance to the bright primary colors of the central motif. He also used crachis, a technique in which pigment was blown or otherwise spattered onto the lithographic stone, to produce softer, more nuanced zones of speckled color. Due to such effects, the dominant colors of Chéret’s posters are rarely entirely solid or uniform: the gentle blue spatter of the crachis mediates between the red foreground and blue background in Luminous Pantomimes, creating a gentler transition. The increase in painterly effects around Chéret’s most prominent, striking motifs similarly softens their forms. Gauzy swathes and flecks of yellow swirl around the Land of the Fairies’s foreground fairy; a similarly variable application of yellow pigment, whether crosshatching or fields of crachis, modulates the central figure’s clothing in Luminous Pantomimes. Combined with a balanced placement of motifs and color, such effects lessened the poster’s visual extremes, producing a harmonious ensemble out of the contrasts it employed to capture attention in a busy, outdoor urban environment. If Chéret’s posters could not be said to fully integrate with the Parisian walls that displayed them, his figures floated as lightly as possible upon and across them, earning recognition as decoration.

Critics frequently remarked that the mastery of decorative principles demonstrated by Chéret’s posters and other printed ephemera was worthy of larger ambitions, notably the scale and permanence of mural decoration. This rhetorical legitimization was confirmed by large-scale decorative commissions for private patrons, undertaken even as the advisory committee was weighing the inclusion of Chéret’s work in the Hôtel de Ville. In 1893–94, Chéret completed a site-specific ensemble of paintings for the billiard room of the private villa of the Baron Joseph Vitta, the scion of a wealthy banking family.‍[69] Maurice Fenaille, who had previously hired Chéret to design posters for products related to his pioneering role in France’s oil industry, subsequently commissioned a decorative ensemble for the dining room of his villa in Neuilly.‍[70] Though neither décor had much public visibility until the turn of the century, they did have an impact on the advisory committee on the Hôtel de Ville decoration. In addition to whatever influence Fenaille or Vitta may have had behind the scenes, two of the committee members were tied to Vitta’s billiard room décor: Jean-Camille Formigé, the architect of the baron’s villa, and Félix Bracquemond, one of Chéret’s collaborators on the billiard room and the most vocal supporter of his Hôtel de Ville commission.‍[71] Formigé explicitly highlighted Chéret’s prior success in analogous decorative endeavors to overcome the hesitation around the Hôtel de Ville commission.‍[72]

Social Solidarity and Solidarism

Thus far, this examination has identified the origins of Chéret’s commission in the modernity and decorative potential of his art. It was initially proposed by Burty as an appropriate addition to a building that sought to represent the actuality and democratic diversity of contemporary Paris. Shepherded by proponents of modern art and design, it later received a recommendation on the grounds that Chéret’s decorative capacities were equal and suited to the challenge of a small space, especially when a lighthearted playfulness and eroticism could be justified by the room’s intermittent use for festive occasions. Yet, it is important to consider an additional factor in the acceptance of Chéret’s art. Its seemingly weightless stimulation takes on civic and social significance when viewed in the light of contemporary discourses on solidarity, particularly that of solidarism, a sociopolitical ideology promoted by the Radical politician Léon Bourgeois (1851–1925). The ideal of solidarity—social interdependence and unity—was invoked in fin-de-siècle France across a broad ideological spectrum that included Catholics, socialists, and anarchists, but Bourgeois made it into a Radical Republican cause by attempting to implement a “solidarist” legislative program—progressive taxation, welfare assistance, and other social programs—during his short-lived tenure (1895–96) as prime minister.‍[73] Though Bourgeois’s proposals did not succeed, his solidarist doctrine provided an apt moral framework for Chéret’s oeuvre due to its emphasis on the compatibility of individual drive and social solidarity. As already noted, Talmeyr condemned the poster’s stimulation of individual appetite as inimical to “the spirit of submission, of work, of religion, of devotion, of selflessness” that he and many other conservatives associated with prosocial, moral behavior.‍[74] Bourgeois, in contrast, drew on the work of figures such as the economist and politician Yves Guyot to highlight individual competition and effort as the motor of social progress (Guyot also happened to be on the advisory committee for the Hôtel de Ville’s decoration).‍[75] If authoritarian regimes had favored the collective by limiting the full development of the individual (a system that Talmeyr and other conservatives wished to see revived), Bourgeois and his fellow Radicals hoped to serve society by leveraging rather than repressing the individual. They presented individual desire and initiative as a source of social value rather than threat.‍[76] Solidarist legislative measures were designed to combine liberal and socialist ideas, facilitating social solidarity by redistributing a portion of individuals’ profits among the collective. The increased prosperity of a larger segment of the population would create stability that would, the Radicals believed, encourage new individual growth and initiative.

As a result of the social value it placed on individual energy and vitality, solidarism provided a suitable framework for legitimizing the poster and Chéret’s aesthetic.‍[77] Chéret had developed this aesthetic in the service of individual profit, whether his own or that of the capitalist entrepreneurs who sought out his designs. The outcome of this commercial drive, in addition to whatever growth it facilitated in French industry, was a modern art that was accessible to everyone on the street and increasingly appreciated across ideological divides. There, his supporters argued, its decorative harmonies would nourish the aesthetic sensibilities of the masses. Though the democratization and aesthetic education achieved through Chéret’s art was in many ways limited and superficial, they were seen as promoting the emergence of a coherent, national style (long a preoccupation of the French government due to its implications for national industry and prestige).‍[78]

Chéret’s harmonies also had the potential to serve an additional, idealistic purpose: the satisfaction of what Bourgeois and other Radicals saw as an unmet, universal human need for transcendent aesthetic experiences.‍[79] In a 1900 conference address, Bourgeois asked that artists do their part to make beauty (described as the “sensory manifestation of universal harmony”) accessible to all, for “it would be the crowning achievement of [the Republican] endeavor if the shared experience [émotion] of beauty is finally added to the shared goal of material and mental well-being.”‍[80] Beauty, described by Bourgeois as a panacea for suffering and a source of shared emotion, would cement the collectivity fostered by solidarist measures. However improbable it might seem, Chéret’s art had come to be seen as a source of these kinds of transcendent experiences. When the décor for Vitta was exhibited in 1902, Marx responded to it in terms that echoed his praise for Puvis de Chavannes’s fulfillment of the “mission” of decorative mural painting.‍[81] In addition to highlighting the décor’s responsiveness to its architectural frame, Marx praised Chéret’s use of “universal” types and a “chimerical,” vaporous backdrop to create an environment suspended “anywhere, outside the world [hors du monde].”‍[82]

Solidarity by Design in the Hôtel de Ville

The Hôtel de Ville was a more complicated proposition than Baron Vitta’s villa due to the public, civic character of the space. As already discussed, the lighthearted, erotic, or ironic notes struck in Chéret’s Hôtel de Ville decoration by the seductive female types and Bohemian Pierrot were disconcerting in a site and overall decorative program of such stature. Returning to this ensemble, however, it is possible to detect the way in which it, too, could be viewed as a “sensory manifestation of universal harmony” capable of provoking the shared, unifying emotion invoked by Bourgeois. As in his decoration for Baron Vitta, Chéret had structured this décor in terms of general areas of artistic activities—Comedy, Pantomime, Music, Dance—that he associated with the pleasures of life. He placed them against the same kind of shifting, vaporous ground that Marx associated with the atemporal atmosphere created in Vitta’s billiard room. In addition to this continuity of setting, each panel in the decoration shares a similar set of features: a chain or mass of figures represented in blue and violet tones, against or out of which a much more distinct figure or set of figures emerges. It is possible to see in this arrangement a metaphor for the solidarist vision of the essential, yet interdependent relationship of the individual and society. The foreground figures, set closer to the picture plane and looking out at the viewer, are more vivid and lively than their companions. Yet that vitality depends on the mass of figures that supports them and serves as a visual foil. They have the stage, but might be absorbed into the crowd at any moment, leaving it to another to take the limelight. This impression is inseparable from the decorative character of Chéret’s ensemble. The chains of figures woven along and through each panel serve to connect its various components and integrate them into a larger whole. Ségard held that Chéret had conceived of the work in this manner from its inception, making it impossible to imagine separating any of the figures from their companions or to separate the décor from the wall it adorned.‍[83] His remarks underline how different Chéret’s décor is from the building’s other decorative commissions, in which each painting (excepting perhaps, small accompanying allegories) generally reads as an individual work, regardless of its status as part of an ensemble or its adaptation to the surrounding architecture. In contrast, even Chéret’s large Comedy and Pantomime panels appear part of a larger, integrated whole due to the physical and compositional contiguity of its various parts.

It is also possible to view the dynamic established between Pierrot and Monsieur Jourdain in a unifying rather than divisive light. Their complementary relationship is suggested by Comedy and Pantomime’s shared horizontal format and the similar arrangement of their casts of players, who proceed in a diagonal rush from the upper corners near the room’s west wall to the lower corners at their eastern edges. It is important to note that the Comédie Française had lost exclusive rights to its repertoire in 1864, making this classical theater tradition more accessible to French audiences.‍[84] The modern, avant-garde revival of French pantomime, on the other hand, was lending that art form literary and theatrical legitimacy. Jules Lemaître, one of the members of the Cercle Funambulesque, argued that the silence of pantomime allowed it to invoke centuries of work by playwrights such as Racine, Molière, and Shakespeare, but in a more powerfully synthetic manner.‍[85] In this light, Chéret’s panels represent analogous rather than contrary French artistic traditions, with Molière’s comedy becoming more democratic even as the art of pantomime became more refined.

Furthermore, Pantomime’s Pierrot is not the black-frocked imp of the more biting forms of Montmartre satire; his expression is more wondering than sardonic. While Monsieur Jourdain puffs out his chest at the forefront of Comedy, Pierrot’s pale figure recedes at the center of Pantomime. He suggests not a sad or debased Pierrot, but rather Pierrot the idealist. He thus evokes Jean-Antoine Watteau as much as Montmartre. The association of Chéret’s art with Watteau and other eighteenth-century artists was a frequent trope in its reception, often in conjunction with the emphasis on its decorative character. This comparison of Chéret’s commercial imagery to an older, established artistic tradition, particularly one that was associated with a refined, aristocratic art, was another means of its legitimization.‍[86] Furthermore, Marx used this association to emphasize the specifically French character of Chéret’s art. He argued that the artist shared with Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard a supposedly “French” gift for grace, elegance, and pleasure, suggesting that Chéret’s work had a special capacity to elicit a shared, unifying emotion in French audiences.‍[87]

As noted by one journalist, “Mr. J. Chéret said to us, ‘I wanted to create a very French work.’ He has marvelously succeeded. Everyone will come to the Hôtel de Ville to contemplate this masterful chef d’oeuvre, whose genius comforts our pessimistic and sullen society with its vision of eternal beauty.”‍[88] Ultimately, this was the view of Chéret’s decoration that won out over any discussion of its subversive import. When it was reviewed by the advisory committee in 1903, official congratulations were sent to the artist on the initiative of Marx himself (by then a committee member), and several members took the opportunity to propose a commission for another artist associated with popular and erotic imagery, Adolphe Willette.‍[89] Marx and his colleagues championed Chéret and Willette not as a destabilizing, popular force, but, instead, because they saw in their work a visual idiom with which both the elite and the masses could identify.


My examination of the commission and reception of Chéret’s Hôtel de Ville decoration, as well as the “poster mania” that preceded it, demonstrates the importance of decorative and ideological (solidarist) frameworks to the legitimization of Chéret’s art. In the eyes of his supporters, Chéret’s commission amplified the aesthetic and social, solidarist benefits detected first in his posters. By producing an ensemble of paintings that honored the decorative “laws” of its destination, the artist promised to model and update criteria associated with the mural aesthetic, but also relevant to a host of decorative practices. His Hôtel de Ville décor renewed this decorative tradition while highlighting the value of individual drive and talent, encapsulating the energetic stimulus prized by Guyot, Bourgeois, and other proponents of a liberal or solidarist morality. It thereby offered a lesson that was civic and social as well as aesthetic. It was worth preserving and celebrating this achievement at the symbolic and administrative center of the city that had generated and recognized it. Furthermore, by the time of the Hôtel de Ville commission and, especially, its installation, the understanding of the stimulus offered by Chéret’s art had undergone a propitious shift. The darker view of an artificial, excessive “gaiety that one fears is obligatory, like those of clowns” offered by some of its early commentators, and still visible in Talmeyr’s diatribe, was drowned out by an emphasis on the regenerative, joyous character of Chéret’s work.‍[90]

The decorative unity and note of joyous fantasy cultivated by Chéret ultimately had more longevity in the Hôtel de Ville than certain works that seem closer to the decoration committee’s charge to embrace “all manifestations of contemporary reality.” While concerns about decorative unity and destination led works like Hippolyte-Dominique Berteaux’s Souvenir of the National Holiday (Souvenir de la Fête nationale, 1889) and Léon Augustin Lhermitte’s Les Halles (1895; fig. 19) to be removed in the early twentieth century, and a series of paintings on the Siege of Paris by Adolphe Binet to be covered up with tapestries, Chéret’s vision of modernity has remained.‍[91]

figure 19
Fig. 19, Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Les Halles, 1895. Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Paris. Artwork in the public domain; image courtesy of Paris Musées.


This article builds on material from my PhD dissertation, “Decorative Painting and Politics in France, 1890–1914,” completed at the University of Michigan in 2014. I am grateful for the guidance and feedback I received on that text from Howard Lay, Susan Siegfried, Michèle Hannoosh, and Joshua Cole, and for the financial support of the research provided by a Georges Lurcy Foundation Fellowship for Study in France. My development of this material was also shaped by participation in a 2010 symposium (Jules Chéret, un Pionnier à la Croisée de l’Art Décoratif et de l’Affiche) coorganized by Réjane Bargiel and Ségolène Le Men, as well as by subsequent conversations with Karen Carter and, more recently, with Réjane Bargiel. I would also like to thank the staff at the Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs / Musée de la Publicité for their help with research and access to materials central to this article. I am particularly indebted to former and current staff members of the City of Paris for facilitating visits to and images of the Hôtel de Ville decorations. Finally, I would like to thank Petra ten-Doesschate Chu for her insightful, constructive feedback and edits on this article manuscript; the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions; and Cara Jordan and Kim Orcutt from Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide for their help in preparing the article for publication.


[1] On the artistic and/or commercial significance of the poster, see Ruth Iskin, The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s–1900s (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2014); Karen L. Carter, “The Spectatorship of the Affiche Illustrée and the Modern City of Paris, 1880–1900,” Journal of Design History 25, no. 1 (March 2012): 11–31; and Hazel Hahn, Scenes of Parisian Modernity: Culture and Consumption in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 155, 183.

[2] “Je ne puis . . . que conseiller aux gens écœurés, comme moi, par cet insolent déballage de gravures et de toiles, de se débarbouiller les yeux au-dehors, par une station prolongée devant ces palissades où éclatent les étonnantes fantaisies de Chéret, ces fantaisies en couleurs si alertement dessinées et si vivement peintes.” Joris-Karl Huysmans, “L’Art moderne,” in Écrits sur l’art, ed. Jérôme Picon (Paris: Flammarion, 2008), 160. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. Huysmans’s appreciation for the poster was first expressed in Salon reviews of 1879, 1880, and 1881, which appeared, respectively, in Le Voltaire, La Réforme, and La Revue littéraire et artistique, and were republished in an 1883 volume entitled L’Art moderne (Paris: G. Charpentier).

[3] Huysmans made note of “cette joie démentielle, presque explosive” in an essay on Chéret in Certains: G. Moreau, Degas, Chéret, Wisthler [sic], Rops, le Monstre, le Fer, etc. (Paris: Tresse et Stock, 1889). Huysmans, Écrits sur l’art, 272–73. For the pathological overtones of this later portrayal, see Karen L. Carter, “Joris-Karl Huysmans, A Dénicheur of Jules Chéret’s Posters,” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 41, no. 1–2 (Fall–Winter 2012–13): 130–33. The poster assumed an even more subversive guise in the anarchist journalism of Félix Fénéon, when he drew a parallel between posters and anarchist terrorism by comparing the former’s “flaming colors” to dynamite. “Chez les barbouilleurs: les affiches en couleur,” Le Père peinard, April 30, 1893, attributed and reproduced in Félix Fénéon, Œuvres plus que complètes: chroniques d’art, ed. Joan U. Halperin, vol. 1 (Paris: Droz, 1970), 230.

[4] Interest in the poster was inspired by Huysmans’s early writings and then intensified by his 1889 essay (see note 3), culminating in the “mania” of the ensuing decade. On the latter, see L’Affichomanie, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée de l’Affiche, 1980); Iskin, The Poster; and Nicholas-Henri Zmelty, L’Affiche illustrée au temps de l’affichomanie (1889–1905) (Paris: Éditions Mare & Martin, 2014).

[5] “L’affiche est l’art, et presque le seul art, de cet âge de fièvre et de rire, de lutte, de ruine, d’électricité et d’oubli.” Maurice Talmeyr, “L’Âge de l’affiche,” in La Cité du sang: tableaux du siècle passé (Paris: Perrin, 1901), 288. The essay originally appeared as Maurice Talmeyr, “L’Âge de l’affiche,” Revue des deux mondes (Paris), September 1, 1896, 201–16. Talmeyr was a Catholic novelist and critic (later an anti-Dreyfusard and supporter of the Action Française); the name was a pseudonym for Marie-Justin-Maurice Coste, as indicated in A. Mathet, “Maurice Talmeyr,” La Croix (Paris), November 4, 1931. Talmeyr’s text is analyzed as an anxious response to capitalism in Marcus Verhagen, “The Poster in Fin-de-Siècle Paris: ‘That Mobile and Degenerate Art,’” in Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, ed. Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

[6] The inclusion of both Chéret and Puvis de Chavannes in the official decorative programs of the Third Republic is presented as an indication of the latter’s eclecticism in Pierre Vaisse, La Troisième République et les peintres (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), 240. This eclectic, laissez-faire approach was inherited in part from the Second Empire but gained fuller justification under the Third Republic, as noted in Patricia Mainardi, The End of the Salon: Art and the State in the Early Third Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 149–50. Richard Thomson has also highlighted Third Republic eclecticism, including in the Hôtel de Ville, as a manifestation of the state’s desire to foster a democratic diversity, while nevertheless identifying an overall tendency to favor naturalism in Art of the Actual: Naturalism and Style in Early Third Republic France, 1880–1900 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 20–22, 38–39. On the eclectic character of the Hôtel de Ville’s decorative program and its association with democratic freedom, see also Marie Jeannine Aquilino, “Painted Promises: The Politics of Public Art in Late Nineteenth-Century France,” The Art Bulletin 75, no. 4 (December 1993): 697; Aimée Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Painted Work, 2 vols. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 2:334; and Daniel Imbert, “L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris: genèse républicaine d’un grand décor,” in Le Triomphe des mairies: grands décors républicains à Paris, 1870–1914, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée du Petit Palais, 1986), 70.

[7] For the significance of Marx’s activities as a critic and arts administrator, see Catherine Meneux, “Roger Marx (1859–1913), critique d’art” (PhD diss., Université Paris IV Sorbonne, 2007); and Catherine Meneux, ed., Roger Marx, un critique aux côtés de Gallé, Monet, Rodin, Gauguin . . . , exh. cat. (Paris: Ville de Nancy and Éditions Artlys, 2006); as well as Debora Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), especially chapters 10 and 12.

[8] See, for example, Katherine Kuenzli’s analysis of the public significance of the early poster designs of Maurice Denis and his fellow Nabis in The Nabis and Intimate Modernism: Painting and the Decorative at the Fin-de-Siècle (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), 33–62; as well as Rosella Froissart’s emphasis on the social value attributed to decorative practices by a host of nineteenth-century theorists in “Situations du décoratif en France au tournant du XIXe siècle: norme, unité et suggestion,” Perspective 1 (2010), https://doi.org/10.4000/perspective.1234; and “Socialization of the Beautiful and Valorization of the Useful: The Decorative Arts in France, from the Utopias of 1848 to Art Nouveau,” West 86th 21, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 2014): 69–101. For earlier scholarship that emphasized this impulse’s orientation toward private, intimate interiors, see Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France.

[9] Analogous victories, also associated with Marx, can be identified in the fin-de-siècle redesign of French coinage and the early twentieth-century reform of school drawing instruction. See Laura Anne Kalba, “Beautiful Money: Looking at La Semeuse in Fin-de-Siècle France,” The Art Bulletin 102, no. 1 (2020): 55–78; and Katherine Brion, “Decorative or Didactic? Art à l’école and the Ambivalent Status of Aesthetics and Democracy in Belle Époque Primary Schools,” History of Education (July 15, 2021), https://doi.org/10.1080/0046760X.2021.1918274.

[10] Toys is the title generally given to the four vertical panels, located at each edge of the room’s longer walls, depicting children and toys. On the prints related to the other subject matter, see Katherine Brion, “The Fin-de-Siècle Poster: Modern Stimulus in the French Interior,” in Designing the French Interior: The Modern Home and Mass Media, ed. Anca Lasc, Georgina Downey, and Mark Taylor (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 112.

[11] The overdoor panels depict attributes—whether musical instruments, masks, or theatre props—associated with the décor’s subjects.

[12] The most detailed inventory of the various depicted roles can be found in Achille Ségard, “Jules Chéret,” in Peintres d’aujourd’hui: les décorateurs (Paris: Librairie Paul Ollendorff, 1914), 233–36. There are some slight inconsistencies between his and other accounts.

[13] On the connections between these figures and those of Chéret’s posters, see Ségard, “Jules Chéret,” 232.

[14] Ségard, 234.

[15] Ségard in fact identified Pierrot’s female companion as a Montmartroise, a complement to Comedy’s Parisienne. Ségard, 236.

[16] On the significance of Pierrot as a symbol of Montmartre’s sardonic, pessimistic humor, see Julian Brigstocke, “Defiant Laughter: Humour and the Aesthetics of Place in Late 19th-Century Montmartre,” Cultural Geographies 19, no. 2 (2011), https://doi.org/10.1177/1474474011414637. In contrast to this place-based analysis, Marika Takanishi Knowles examines the representation of Pierrot as a decontextualized, groundless figure, including in the work of Chéret, as a sign of the emergence of an image-based, spectacular culture, in “Lost Ground: The Performance of Pierrot in Nadar and Adrien Tournachon’s Photographs of Charles Deburau,” Oxford Art Journal 38, no. 3 (2015): 379–86, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxartj/kcv022.

[17] On this revival of Pierrot and Chéret’s involvement, see the epilogue to Robert Storey, Pierrots on the Stage of Desire: Nineteenth-Century French Literary Artists and the Comic Pantomime (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), especially 286; Louisa E. Jones, Sad Clowns and Pale Pierrots (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1984), 187–214; and Gilles Bonnet, Pantomimes fin-de-siècle (Paris: Éditions Kimé, 2008).

[18] As Verhagen has highlighted, it was the poster’s ties with Bohemian Montmartre and, therefore, working-class insurrection and commercialized spectacle that led Talmeyr to associate the medium with a carnivalesque social instability. This association was due to the neighborhood’s alignment with the Commune, as well as to the ambiguous class and politics of its more recent Bohemian denizens. “The Poster in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.” On the poster’s ties to Montmartre, see also Hahn, Scenes of Parisian Modernity, 205–18.

[19] In his condemnation of the poster, Talmeyr excoriated its titillating, seductive figures and associated them in his text with prostitution and pornography. See, for example, the passage reproduced in note 39. See also a discussion of these figures as an incitement to masturbation in an 1888 or 1889 article by Hippolyte Devilliers in the Journal des arts, included among the press clippings (reference number of the particular volume: YB3-1657 (1)-4) on Chéret donated by René Bordeau and held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), Département des Estampes et de la Photographie. Many commentators highlighted the suggestive eroticism of Chéret’s and other artists’ poster imagery, even if Chéret generally escaped censorship. See Karen Lynn Carter, “Unfit for Public Display: Female Sexuality and the Censorship of Fin-de-Siecle Publicity Posters,” Early Popular Visual Culture 8, no. 2 (2010): 113–16, https://doi.org/10.1080/17460651003688055.

[20] “Un huissier à chaine d’argent pointe un doigt vers des seaux posés dans un angle de la salle et murmure: ‘Prenez garde à la peinture!’ Ironie, peut-être, d’une âme simple, gâtée par la fréquentation de toute la grande peinture officielle d’à côté.” Chambry, “Au jour le jour: Chéret à l’Hôtel de Ville,” Le Journal [n.p], [n.d.], 1903. Like the following text by Durand, this text is included among the press clippings on Chéret held at the BNF (reference number of the particular volume: Yb3-1650 (1)-4); both lack identifying information beyond the newspaper title and year. See also comments about the décor troubling the municipal councilors made by Maurice Durand in “La Semaine à Paris,” France Immobilière, 1903; and by Arsène Alexandre, “Musique et danses à l’Hôtel de Ville,” Le Figaro (Paris), February 3, 1903. “Elle [la couleur; i.e., Chéret’s impressionist palette] semble se moquer de la peinture officielle. La muse de Chéret, quand elle regarde des tableaux d’Histoire, trouve le mot qui fait rire.” Ségard, “Jules Chéret,” 241.

[21] “La peinture, selon nous, se sépare naturellement en deux grandes divisions: la peinture monumentale et la peinture de chevalet, la première chargée d’orner les édifices nationaux et publics, les temples de la prière et les temples du plaisir; la seconde, de peupler les galeries et de satisfaire les goûts individuels. L’une, intimement liée à l’architecture, doit viser à la composition, au style, à la couleur sobre, à l’exécution large et simple, et ses proportions s’agrandissent avec celles du monument; l’autre, destinée au déplacement, n’a pas besoin d’exagérer ses cadres. . . . A elle la fantaisie, le caprice, le fini d’exécution, la curiosité du détail, le précieux ou le ragout de la touche. L’originalité peut s’y déployer librement: c’est de la peinture pour la peinture, de l’art pour l’art.” Later in the text, having envisioned a future in which all the great monuments of Paris would be decorated, he wrote that “Sans doute l’individualisme en souffrirait, et quelques-uns y perdraient leur petite originalité de détail, mais les grandes œuvres sont presque toutes collectives.” Théophile Gautier, “L’Art en 1848,” L’Artiste (Paris), May 15, 1848, 114–15.

[22] Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, vol. 1, especially 48–50.

[23] Aquilino, “Painted Promises,” 697 and passim; and Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 1:48–51.

[24] See note 21.

[25] For the importance of decorative painting in the Third Republic, see Vaisse, La Troisième République, 175–79.

[26] These challenges, which included political threats from the right (such as Boulangism and subsequent reactionary nationalisms) and the left (such as anarchist terrorism), the tensions between Catholicism and republican secularism, and the conflicts raised by the Dreyfus Affair, are (in addition to being invoked by the title) briefly summarized in Richard Thomson, The Troubled Republic: Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1890–1900 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 6–7. On the values that the Third Republic sought to inculcate via these decorations, see Thérèse Burollet, “Prolégomènes à l’étude du mur républicain,” in Le Triomphe des mairies, 35–38.

[27] Marius Vachon, L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 1535–1905 (Paris: Plon-Nourrit et Cie, 1905), cited and trans. in Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 2:334.

[28] On the political implications of the challenge to the Fine Arts administration that the formation of this committee represented, see Imbert, “L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris,” 64–68. The composition of the committee and a list of its members can be found in Vachon, L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 113–16.

[29] “La decoration de la maison commune, cet ‘antique berceau de la cité,’ doit être la réunion d’un ensemble d’œuvres artistiques représentant la peinture contemporaine dans ses plus libres et plus fortes inspirations. Soucieuse avant tout d’assurer toutes les manifestations de la réalité actuelle, de donner la plus large place à la representation de la vie politique, economique, intellectuelle, sociale de Paris, mais également résolue à éviter tout esprit d’exclusivisme et d’autoritarisme en matière d’art, votre Commission a fait appel au concours de toutes les écoles.” Commission de décoration de L’Hôtel de Ville: procès-verbaux, vol. 1 (Paris: Ville de Paris, July 2, 1887–October 27, 1899), 18–19.

[30] Jennifer Shaw, Dream States: Puvis de Chavannes, Modernism, and the Fantasy of France (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 149. See chapter 5 in Shaw’s text, as well as Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, 2:334–35, for the significance of these decorations within the building’s decorative program.

[31] January 21, 1892, session, Commission de décoration, 265–66, 268–69. Puvis de Chavannes was initially resistant to executing a ceiling decoration, but acquiesced upon the committee’s insistence.

[32] Le Triomphe des mairies, 285–89.

[33] Roger Marx, “Les Salons de 1895,” La Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris), June 1, 1895, 451.

[34] “Il a voulu entre la décoration et le monument une alliance si étroite, une fusion si complète que l’ensemble parût jailli d’un coup, au commandement d’une inspiration unique. . . . Avec leurs matités et leurs ‘pâleurs,’ les tentures de Puvis de Chavannes entendent ‘se subordonner à la pierre grise ou crayeuses des édifices élevés pour exalter le devoir civique et social, pour glorifier l’art et la pensée’ [Marx was quoting from his own Salon of 1895].” Roger Marx, “Puvis de Chavannes,” Revue encyclopédique (Paris), December 23, 1899, 1079.

[35] “C’est son [referring to mural painting] privilège de nous ravir à nous-même, de nous entrainer hors du temps présent, any where out of the world; d’elle encore on peut apprendre le mépris de l’éphémère et espérer une passagère trêve à la fièvre et à l’angoisse.” (Emphasis in the original.) Marx, “Puvis de Chavannes,” 1077. For Marx’s emphasis on the eternal character of decorative painting, see also François de Vergnette, “Questions de peinture monumentale,” in Regards de critique d’art: autour de Roger Marx (1858–1913), ed. Catherine Meneux (Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008), 105–6.

[36] The Haussmannian renovations to Paris, aimed in part at increasing the circulation of capital, continued under the Third Republic. They ensured prominent sites of display through the creation of wide boulevards and dedicated hoardings, the installation of elements such as kiosks and Morris columns, as well as the surfaces, notably wooden palisades, opened up by recurring construction. The Third Republic favored an explosion in advertising on these Haussmannian surfaces with an 1881 law that aligned freedom of the press with a reduction in commercial regulation (notably, by lessening the administrative barriers and restrictions on bill posting). Claude Bellanger et al., eds., Histoire générale de la presse française: de 1871 à 1940, vol. 3 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972), 7–23. For more on the implications of the Haussmannian context and the exponential increase in commercial posters after the 1881 law, see Carter, “The Spectatorship of the Affiche Illustrée,” 14–16. Hazel Hahn and Laura Anne Kalba point to earlier conditions, including urban and technological changes, that prepared the emergence of the commercial color poster in, respectively, Hahn, Scenes of Parisian Modernity, 155, 183; and Laura Anne Kalba, “Chromolithography: Posters, Trade Cards, and the Politics of Ephemera Collecting in Fin-de-Siècle France,” in Color in the Age of Impressionism: Commerce, Technology, Art (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017), 159–60.

[37] Another view taken by Atget of this wall of posters can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession no. 2001.282).

[38] See note 5.

[39] “La véritable architecture, aujourd’hui, . . . c’est l’affiche, le pullulement de couleurs sous lequel disparaît le monument de pierre, comme les ruines sous la nature fourmillante; c’est l’édifice instable, démoli tous les soirs, reconstruit tous les matins, d’images voyantes et changeantes qui agacent et interpellent le passant, le flattent, le provoquent, l’entraînent, lui rient au nez et le racolent.” Talmeyr, “L’Âge de l’affiche,” 273.

[40] “Le monument d’autrefois, avec tous les arts qu’il englobait, peinture, sculpture, ornementations et décorations de toutes sortes, relevait d’un art seigneurial, éminemment aristocratique ou dominateur, qui répondait au train social de l’époque [et] ne parl[ait] guère à la foule que de son devoir social ou religieux. . . . L’affiche, au contraire, ne nous parle que de nous-mêmes, de nos plaisirs, de nos goûts, de nos intérêts, de notre alimentation, de notre santé, de notre vie, de nos vices.” Talmeyr, 271–72. Talmeyr’s contrast between the individualizing address of the poster and the authoritarian monument is also discussed in Verhagen, “The Poster in Fin-de-Siècle Paris,” 116.

[41] Talmeyr, “L’Âge de l’affiche,” 272–73.

[42] “M. Ph. Burty expose que depuis de longues années M. Jules Chéret couvre les murs de Paris et de la province de compositions sans cesse renouvelées et toujours distinguées qui composent un musée populaire charmant. Par la largeur de son talent, M. Chéret a révolutionné le mode si longtemps banal de la publicité, sous ses crayons et grâce à son pinceau, l’affiche imprime à l’actualité une délicatesse et une force dignes de l’activité spéciale à la Capitale. . . .

. . . M. Burty demande s’il ne serait pas possible de lui accorder un espace dans l’Hôtel de Ville afin de compléter, par l’acception de ce talent essentiellement moderne et parisien, les diverses écoles dont les maîtres participent déjà à la décoration du palais municipal.” Session of February 10, 1890, Commission de décoration, 217.

[43] Burty wrote to Marx of the committee’s reaction that “Quelques poils en ont blanchi!” Letter from Philippe Burty to Roger Marx, February 21, 1890, Fonds Roger Marx, Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris. On the connections between Burty and Marx, see Meneux, “Roger Marx (1859–1913), critique d’art,” 55–56.

[44] For the committee’s initial return to the subject, see the session of January 21, 1892, Commission de décoration, 268–69.

[45] See the discussion of Hattat’s role in Imbert, “L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris”; and Frédéric Hattat, Rapport présenté par M. Hattat, au nom de la 5e Commission, sur la décoration picturale de l’Hôtel de Ville (Paris: Imprimerie Municipale, 1887).

[46] This initiative was inspired by the association’s president, Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera. Having published an article by Garnier on the topic in its bulletin, the association campaigned to have the government enforce and introduce new limitations on the placement of advertising, especially on historic and official buildings. Charles Garnier, “Les Affiches agaçantes,” Bulletin de la Société des amis des monuments parisiens, no. 3 (1886): 129–38. This text had previously appeared in 1871 in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, at which time it primarily targeted the enormous, text-based publicity that predominated in that period. By the time it was republished in 1886, however, critics saw the smaller, commercial color posters as another one of its targets. See, for example, Arsène Alexandre’s protest of this effort as an attack on the poster in “Les Affiches agaçantes,” Paris, March 1, 1888, 2. The article is dedicated to Chéret.

[47] “M. Hattat, tout en rendant hommage au talent tres personnel de M. Cheret, craint que l’ensemble des sujets soumis à la Commission, qui conviendraient très bien à une salle de concert ou au foyer d’un théâtre, soit trop fantaisiste pour la décoration d’un monument officiel.” Session of March 9, 1895, Commission de décoration, 318.

[48] For information on these decorations, see Le Triomphe des mairies, 315–16, 379–80, 397–400.

[49] Sessions of March 9 and November 19, 1895, Commission de décoration, 318, 340. Though mainly serving as the location for the Commission de la Voirie’s meetings, the room was also used during balls.

[50] It is suggested that the use of Chéret’s paintings as tapestry designs was proposed as a means of toning down its effects in Le Triomphe des mairies, 445.

[51] Their presence in the Hôtel de Ville is noted in Le Masque de Fer, “Echos: à travers Paris,” Le Figaro, October 17, 1902, 1.

[52] Bargiel and Le Men, eds., La Belle Époque de Jules Chéret, 124.

[53] Carter, “Joris-Karl Huysmans,” 123–24 and passim; and Le Men, “L’Œuvre de Chéret en résonance,” La Belle Époque de Jules Chéret, 67–68. Félicien Champsaur was among the earlier commentators on Chéret’s work, in “L’Imagerie Parisienne,” Le Figaro, supplement littéraire du dimanche, May 16, 1885, 78.

[54] In 1884, Ernest Maindron wrote articles in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts that portrayed Chéret’s posters as the culmination of a longer trajectory of technical and artistic innovation. These texts were later published as a book with a cover designed by Chéret. Ernest Maindron, Les Affiches illustrées (Paris: H. Launette, 1886).

[55] On the exhibition, entitled Histoire résumée de l’affiche française, see Ségolène Le Men, “L’Art de l’affiche à l’Exposition universelle de 1889,” Bulletin de la Bibliothèque nationale (June 1991): 67–68.

[56] Exposition Jules Chéret: pastels, lithographies, dessins, affiches illustrées, exh. cat. (Paris: Imprimeries Chaix [Succursale Chéret], 1889). Marx’s work to legitimize the poster is addressed in Iskin, The Poster, especially chapters 3 and 4, though Iskin’s interpretation of Marx’s efforts as largely a function of his desire to legitimize color printmaking as a source of original, reproductive artworks differs from my own.

[57] For Huysmans’s 1889 essay, see note 3. L’Estampe et l’affiche (Paris), a serial publication devoted to posters and print culture and edited by Noël Clément-Janin and André Mellerio, appeared monthly from March 1897 through 1899.

[58] For sources on affichomanie, see note 4.

[59] “La modernité, c’est le transitoire, le fugitif, le contingent, la moitié de l’art, dont l’autre moitié est l’éternel et l’immuable.” Charles Baudelaire, Le Peintre de la vie moderne, ed. Silvia Acierno and Julio Baquero Cruz (Paris: Éditions du Sandre, 2009), 20.

[60] Initially Chéret’s mastery of Parisian walls invoked popular as much as or more than elite practices, and references to fresco in its reception sometimes designated large-scale fairground displays rather than the decoration of monuments. An early example (predating that of Marx) of the poster’s association with the more elevated tradition of Renaissance fresco can nevertheless be found in the following, anonymous article: “Les Affiches estampes,” Le Temps (Paris), May 3, 1886.

[61] “Au résumé, nul effet ne fut mieux atteint, nulle tenture ne décela une plus rare et plus instinctive entente de la décoration.” Marx, preface to Exposition Jules Chéret, iv.

[62] John Grand-Carteret, “Chroniques documentaires: Chéret et l’affiche illustrée,” Le National (Paris), December 31, 1889, also included in the press clippings on Chéret at the BNF.

[63] Les Affiches illustrées (1886–1895) (Paris: G. Boudet, 1896), 32.

[64] “[L’art de l’affiche] n’a ni moins de signification ni moins de prestige que l’art de la fresque; . . . tandis que les lois essentielles et séculaires de la décoration sont presque partout méconnues, violées à plaisir, le respect s’en est maintenu chez les maîtres de l’affiche.” Marx, preface to Les Maîtres de l’affiche: publication mensuelle contenant la reproduction des plus belles affiches illustrées des grands artistes, français et étrangers, vol. 3 (Paris: Imprimerie Chaix, 1898), iv.

[65] “Le remarquable est que tant d’ouvrages . . . donnent l’exemple d’un respect absolu des nécessités de la convenance et de la destination. Tout s’y trouve établi en vue du rôle que l’affiche doit tenir, de la place qu’elle est appelée à occuper.” Marx, Exposition Jules Chéret, iii.

[66] Laura Anne Kalba, “How Media Were Made: Chromolithography in Belle Époque France,” History and Technology 27, no. 4 (2011): 442–43, https://doi.org/10.1080/07341512.2011.622154. See Marx’s later emphasis on Chéret’s engagement with modern technology and the division of labor in Roger Marx, L’Art social (Paris: E. Fasquelle, 1913), 13. This protorationalist facet of decorative arts reform is also discussed in Froissart, “Socialization of the Beautiful”; as well as in her L’Art dans tout: les arts décoratifs en France et l’utopie d’un art nouveau (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2004), 211–17.

[67] “S’ensuit-il que toute affiche ait le privilège d’embellir et d’orner la paroi qui la reçoit? Non pas. Elle n’y réussit qu’à la condition de satisfaire aux lois de la décoration murale. C’est de quoi ne se soucient guère les détracteurs prompts à censurer les effets d’une technique réclamée par le but et la destination de l’affiche; mais, leur faut-il répondre, sans arabesque fortement accusée la composition ne se lirait pas à distance et le premier regard ne pourrait la saisir dans son ensemble; de même l’exposition en plein air commande tout aussi impérieusement des couleurs assez éclatantes pour vibrer sous la lumière crue du jour.” Marx, preface to Les Maîtres de l’Affiche (1897), 2:iii. Marx alludes to Talmeyr’s article briefly in the opening of this preface, such that this defense of the poster served as an implicit refutation of Talmeyr’s condemnation of the medium.

[68] In a letter to Béraldi, Chéret underlined his ability to create harmony out of otherwise harsh colors as a key component of his posters’ “decorative” character. This letter and others are preserved in Béraldi’s copy of his own Les Graveurs du XIXe siècle, now held at the BNF’s Réserve du département de l’Estampe. The relevant passage is reproduced in Bargiel and Le Men, eds., La Belle Époque de Jules Chéret, 42. Bradford Ray Collins has suggested that Chéret was an active participant, perhaps even an originator, in the notion that his art was decorative (thus tying it to the cause of decorative arts reform), in “The Poster as Art: Jules Chéret and the Struggle for the Equality of the Arts in Late Nineteenth-Century France,” Design Issues 2, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 43–44. Chéret’s approach to color suggests awareness of Michel-Eugène Chevreul’s laws of simultaneous contrast, directed in part at decorators. I thank Petra Chu for highlighting this point. Ties between Chéret and color theorists were suggested at the time in Edmond Cousturier, “L’Art aux murs,” L’Endehors (Paris), July 10, 1892.

[69] The paintings were finalized on site later, in 1897. For more on this décor, see Réjane Bargiel, “Chez le baron Vitta, l’affichiste Jules Cheret devient décorateur,” in Joseph Vitta: passion de collection, exh. cat. (Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2014), 86–89; as well as Bargiel, “Jules Chéret décorateur,” 80–85.

[70] Bargiel, “Jules Chéret décorateur,” 88–90.

[71] I thank Madame Bargiel for drawing my attention to the roles Vitta and Fenaille may have played in the success of the Hôtel de Ville commission, given their subsequent orchestration of a 1912 exhibition of Chéret’s work at the Pavillon de Marsan (Musée des Arts Décoratifs). They financed the latter and provided most of the artworks on display, as noted in Bargiel and Le Men, eds., La Belle Époque de Jules Chéret, 127.

[72] See Jean-Camille Formigé’s remarks during the sessions of March 9 and November 19, 1895, Commission de décoration, 319, 340.

[73] A number of scholars have highlighted the connection between this discourse on solidarity and the visual arts. For solidarity and decorative painting, see Margaret Werth, The Joy of Life: The Idyllic in French Art, circa 1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 49–58; and Shaw, Dream States, 62–64. For discussions tying decorative arts reform to solidarity and Bourgeois’s solidarism, see Silverman, Art Nouveau, 43–51; and Rosalind Williams, Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), especially 269–70, 403–5. For the broader evolution of the concept of solidarity in France, see Marie-Claude Blais, La Solidarité: histoire d’une idée (Paris: Gallimard, 2007).

[74] Talmeyr, “L’Âge de l’affiche,” 274–75.

[75] Léon Bourgeois, Solidarité (Paris: A. Colin, 1896), 39–42.

[76] “L’évolution des sociétés tend donc naturellement à cet état où chacune des activités individuelles aura la liberté d’atteindre à son plus haut degré d’énergie et consacrera aussi complètement que possible cette énergie au développement de l’œuvre commune.” Bourgeois, Solidarité, 64.

[77] For a discourse that explicitly framed Chéret’s art as a salutary source of modern stimulation, see the following texts by the writer and doctor Maurice de Fleury: “La Maison d’un moderniste,” Le Figaro (Supplément littéraire du dimanche), September 22, 1888, 150–51; and Introduction à la médecine de l’esprit, 5th ed. (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1898), 257, 437–38. Though probably imaginary, elements of the “modernist” house discussed in the first text foreshadowed Chéret’s decorations for Baron Vitta. For further discussion of de Fleury and the poster, see Brion, “The Fin-de-Siècle Poster.” See also the significance of solidarism for Marx in Catherine Meneux, “Le Solidarisme et l’art selon Roger Marx,” in Regards de critique d’art, 150 and passim.

[78] For French fears about the challenges posed by global industry and commerce, and the consequent focus on artistic forms of artisanal and industrial production, one of the earliest sources of French export revenue, see Silverman, Art Nouveau, 52–55; and Stéphane Laurent, L’Art utile: les écoles d’arts appliqués sous le Second Empire et la Troisième République (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998), 12. On the other hand, it was hoped that industrial production and commerce would, by democratizing art, contribute to the education of taste, thereby improving French competitiveness. Froissart, “Socialization of the Beautiful,” 69–70 and passim. See also Nancy Troy, Modernism and the Decorative Arts in France: Art Nouveau to Le Corbusier (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 163–64.

[79] For an example of a Radical politician who promoted the democratization of art as a means of satisfying both an innate human and industrial need, see Charles Couyba, L’Art et la démocratie: les écoles, les théâtres, les manufactures, les musées, les monuments (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1902), 1.

[80] “Le beau, le vrai beau, qui n’est que la manifestation sensible dans un objet de l’harmonie universelle, est vraiment pour tout le monde. . . . Ah, . . . quel couronnement véritable de l’œuvre entreprise si, dans cette grande association mutuelle et solidaire où nous apercevons les traits de la société de demain, à la volonté commune du bien matériel et moral vient s’ajouter enfin l’émotion commune devant la beauté.” “Séance de clôture: dimanche 30 septembre 1900,” in Congrès international de l’éducation sociale (26–30 septembre 1900), Exposition universelle de 1900 (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1901), 454.

[81] Roger Marx, “Essais de rénovation ornementale: la salle de billard d’une villa moderne,” Gazette des Beaux Arts, May 1, 1902, 409–24. Marx uses the term “mission” on page 423 of his article. Representations of and elements from the décor were exhibited that same year at the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Jane Van Nimmen, exhibition review of Joseph Vitta: Passion de collection, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 13, no. 2 (Autumn 2014), http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn14/nimmen-reviews-joseph-vitta-passion-de-collection. For the related remarks on Puvis de Chavannes, see note 35.

[82] Marx, “Essais de rénovation,” 414–15, 422, 423.

[83] “D’abord la conception de cet ensemble est décorative et purement décorative. On ne conçoit même pas que ces panneaux puissent être détachés du mur pour lequel ils ont été faits sans qu’ils perdent, par le seul fait de leur transport, une partie très importante de leur beauté. Il n’est pas moins impossible de séparer par la pensée telle ou telle partie de cet ensemble, tel ou tel personnage dans tel ou tel groupe, sans qu’apparaisse un trou et que tout se désaccorde. Ces rondes, pour s’élancer, ont besoin de ce mur comme d’un point d’appui pour prendre leur élan. On sent qu’elles ont été imaginées et exécutées pour cet espace particulier et qu’elles ne pourraient s’adapter sans dommage à aucun autre. Ces peintures font corps avec le mur.” Ségard, “Jules Chéret,” 238. This description of the decorative character of Chéret’s work bears a certain affinity to Marx’s discussion of Puvis de Chavannes’s decorations, as seen in note 34.

[84] Sally Debra Charnow, Theatre, Politics, and Markets in Fin-De-Siècle Paris: Staging Modernity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2005), 32–33, 59.

[85] “Comme nous sommes pleins de littérature jusqu’aux bords, ces spectacles silencieux nous charmeraient en éveillant en nous une foule de souvenirs, d’impressions et de rêves. Par exemple, une scène de jalousie suivie de raccommodement entre Colombine et Arlequin, par cela même qu’elle serait toute en signes et en attitudes, évoquerait et résumerait pour nous toutes les scènes analogues écrites par Molière, Racine ou Shakespeare. Le moindre geste de Pierrot se trouverait subitement commenté, dans notre mémoire, par une demi-douzaine de grands poètes.” Jules Lemaître, Impressions de théâtre, deuxième série, 4th ed. (Paris: Librairie H. Lecène et H. Oudin, 1888), 354. See also Storey, Pierrots on the Stage of Desire, 295.

[86] References to these artists and to the eighteenth century are omnipresent in the reception of Chéret’s work, as shown by the press clippings held at the BNF. There are two sets of volumes, identified by the reference numbers Yb3-1657 (1-2)-4 (spanning the years 1884–91) and Yb3-1650 (1-4)-4 (spanning the years 1885–1937). The association of Chéret’s art with the Rococo as a means of legitimization is discussed in Bradford Ray Collins, “Jules Chéret and the Nineteenth-Century French Poster” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1980), especially 119–23.

[87] “Vienne l’occasion, l’affiche ne manque pas d’inciter à la charité, à l’admiration, au labeur, aux retours sur soi-même; mais elle sait aussi être pimpante, légère, et nous serions vraiment dignes de pitié, si les dons essentiels de la race étaient soudain abolis, et si la grâce, l’élégance, la joie cessaient de trouver des interprètes et des poètes au pays de Watteau, de Fragonard et de Chéret.” Les Maîtres de l’Affiche, 2:iii–iv.

[88] “M. J. Chéret nous disait: ‘J’ai voulu réaliser une œuvre bien française.’ C’est fait et merveilleusement. Le monde entier viendra contempler, à l’Hôtel de Ville, ce chef-d’œuvre d’un maître, qui avec son génie console notre société pessimiste et renfrognée, par la vision de l’éternelle beauté.” Durand, “La Semaine à Paris.”

[89] See the report for Monday, July 6, [1903], in the commissioning committee’s procès-verbaux, VR 559, Archives de Paris, Paris; and Le Triomphe des mairies, 446.

[90] “Une gaieté qu’on craint obligatoire à la façon des clowns dont les lèvres rouges ont l’air d’une plaie. . . . Et ainsi, cette gaieté des affiches de Chéret, où se décèle en apparence un sens éveillé de la joie, n’est que factice et mélancolique au fond.” Tout-Paris, “Bloc-notes parisien: exposition de Chéret,” Le Gaulois (Paris), December 22, 1889. For the contrasting view, see, for example, note 88, as well as the following assessment by Camille Mauclair (though it should be noted that Mauclair also saw a hint of melancholy in Chéret’s work, due to the longing for a deeper happiness that its joy inspired): “Je ne parlerai même point de ses affiches. . . . La dette de joie dont nos yeux sont redevables à ce grand artiste est une dette publique aujourd’hui”; “Il posséda l’instinct de l’expression de la joie, de cette joie éperdue qui volète au-dessus de la lutte vitale et qui s’élance avec les soubresauts de la flamme vers l’inaccessible région du bonheur.” “Jules Chéret,” L’Art décoratif (Paris), January 1903, 4. In contemporaneous texts, Chéret himself endorsed this view of his work as focused on joy, as indicated in Léon de Montarlot, “Les peintures de Chéret à l’Hôtel de Ville,” Le Monde illustré (Paris), January 25, 1902.

[91] Imbert, “L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris,” 71. On the substitution or covering up of Binet and Lhermitte’s paintings with tapestry, and the replacement of works by Berteaux and others with a series of more allegorical works dedicated to Paris and painted by Georges Picard, see Le Triomphe des mairies, 336, 347, 417; and Lucien Lambeau, L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris (Paris: Librairie Renouard, H. Laurens, Éditeur, 1908), 111–12, 133–34. Chéret’s ensemble has survived even a recent renovation of the space, though the light fixtures and furniture colors compete with the painted décor. “Salon Chéret,” Encore Heureux (website), accessed January 10, 2022, http://encoreheureux.org/projets/salon-cheret/.