Jules Cheret is unquestionably the father of the poster. An artist and technician, Cheret brought color lithography to the highest levels of perfection by demonstrating how all the hues of the rainbow could be achieved with three or four colors. He literally created not only a new art form, but an industry as well. His training as a lithographer, superb draftsmanship and an exquisite sense of color enabled him to elevate the poster to new aesthetic levels. By the 1890's, Cheret's posters were the joy of Paris and its billboards were infused with new life. Cheret proved the poster was art and demonstrated that artistic style and commercial value can co-exist and create a new sense of vision.
It was Jules Cheret (French, 1836-1932) whose unique combination of artistic, technical and entrepreneurial talents was to pave the way for a true poster industry. After Cheret opened his own print shop in Paris in1866, his work continued to inspire emulators in Europe and America. From 1881 on, his shop operated as a branch of the large Chaix firm (Imprimerie Chaix - pronounced 'shecks').
Born in Paris to a poor but creative family of artisans, a lack of finances meant Jules Chéret had a very limited education. At age thirteen, he began a three-year apprenticeship with a lithographer and then his interest in painting led him to take an art course at the École Nationale de Dessin. Like most other fledgling artists, Chéret studied the techniques of various artists, past and present, by visiting Paris museums.
He was trained in lithography in London, England, from 1859 and 1866, and there he was strongly influenced by the British approach to poster design and printing. On returning to France, influenced by the scenes of frivolity depicted in the works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and other Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau, Chéret created vivid poster ads for the cabarets, music halls, and theaters such as the Eldorado, the Olympia, the Folies Bergères, Theatre de l'Opera, the Alcazar d'Ete and the Moulin Rouge. So much in demand was he, that he expanded his business to providing advertisements for the plays of touring troupes, municipal festivals, and then for beverages and liquors, perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Eventually he became a major advertising force, adding the railroad companies and a number of manufacturing businesses to his client list.
As his work became more popular and his large posters displaying modestly free-spirited females found a larger audience, pundits began calling him the ''father of the women's liberation.'' Females had previously been depicted in art as prostitutes or puritans, and the Cheréts — as his women were popularly called — were neither. It was freeing for the women of Paris, and lead to a noticeably more open atmosphere in Paris where women were able to engage in formerly taboo activities, such as wearing low-cut bodices and smoking in public. These Cheréts were widely seen, and a writer of the time said ''It is difficult to conceive of Paris without its Cheréts'' (History and Development of Advertising 1929, page 496).
In 1895, Chéret created the Maîtres de l'Affiche collection, a significant art publication of smaller sized reproductions featuring the best works of ninety-seven Parisian artists. His success inspired an industry that saw the emergence of a new generation of poster designers and painters such as Charles Gesmar and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of his students was Georges de Feure.
In his old age Jules Chéret retired to the pleasant climate of the French Riviera at Nice. He died in 1932 at the age of ninety-six and was interred in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris.
He was awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in 1890 for his outstanding contributions to the graphic arts. Although his paintings earned him a certain respect, it was his work creating advertising posters, taken on just to pay his bills but eventually his dedication, for which he is remembered today.