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Théophile Alexandre Steinlen
swiss, active in france
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Lausanne, Switzerland
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Paris, France
A prolific illustrator, lithographer and printmaker, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen was also a talented painter and sculptor. Much of his art demonstrated his concern for social justice for the poor and the working classes. A lover of cats, masterful depictions of the animals featured prominently in his art. Using the new technology of photomechanical reproduction, Steinlen created more than 2,000 images published in more than fifty publications. He also made some 600 original lithographs, etchings and monotypes, as well as oil paintings and sculptures. He had a vast influence on younger artists ranging from Pablo Picasso (1891-1973) to Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, he studied at the University of Lausanne for about two years. After designing textiles for a few years in a factory in Mulhouse, Alsace-Lorraine, he moved to the Montmartre district of Paris in 1881, where he continued to design fabrics. He was introduced to Rudolphe Salis (1851-1897), the owner of the Montmartre cabaret Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) in 1883. Steinlen’s first published illustration appeared in the cabaret’s journal Le Chat noir that year. He contributed illustrations to ninety-two issues of the journal. After the entertainer and songwriter Aristide Bruant (1851-1925) established his cabaret, Le Mirliton in 1885, Steinlen created illustrations for its journal until 1892. Steinlen also illustrated the two volumes Bruant published containing collections of his songs and monologues, Dans la rue (1889 and 1895). Steinlen’s drawings first appeared in Le Courrier français in 1885, La caricature in 1890 and in L’Echo de Paris (Paris Gossip) in 1891. He contributed nearly 700 covers and song illustrations to Gil Blas illustré, the weekly supplement to a Parisian newspaper from 1891 to 1900. His covers for such journals as Chambard socialiste (The Socialist Fight) from 1893, La Rire (Laughter) from 1895 and La Feuille (The Sheet) from 1898 also revealed his anti-bourgeois, anarchistic opinions. Well-known for his political views, after the assassination of French President Sadi Carnot (1837-1894) by an anarchist in 1894, Steinlen briefly left France for Norway to avoid being one of the hundreds of anarchists arrested in August. Steinlen actively supported Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) after his conviction on espionage charges, creating seventeen pointed satires for Le Feuille. He nevertheless remained loyal to his adopted country and became a French citizen in 1901. Steinlen was an active creator of posters in diverse styles, with ninety-nine listed in Bargiel and Zagrodzki’s [“B/Z”] catalog raisonné. His first advertising poster appeared in 1885. An advertising poster from 1894 featuring his daughter and three cats, Lait pur Stérilisé de la Vingeanne (Pure Sterilized Milk from the Vingeanne, Crauzat [“C”] 491, B/Z 16), was the first to be printed by Charles Verneau (?-1913), an expert lithographic printer with whom Steinlen would collaborate for the next two decades. It was followed in 1896 by perhaps his best-known poster, advertising Le Chat Noir’s touring shows, Tournée du Chat Noir (Tour of the Black Cat, C. 496, B/Z 22), which featured a large black cat and an Art Nouveau design. Steinlen achieved immense fame by the mid-1890s; a solo show of paintings and drawings was mounted at Galerie La Bodinière in 1894 and he exhibited at the annual Salons of the Société des Indépendants during the 1890s. Steinlen began creating etchings in 1898, using multiple etching plates to print color etchings, depicting nudes, cats, landscapes and scenes from World War I. His leftist illustrations appeared in L’Assiette au beurre (The Butter Plate) between 1901 and 1905, as well the satirical journal Le Canard sauvage (The Wild Duck) from 1903. During the century’s first decade he also illustrated limited-edition books, including works by Anatole France (1844-1924) and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893). Another significant solo exhibition of Steinlen’s works was mounted in Paris at the Galerie Saint-Georges in 1903. During the first decade of the 20th century Steinlen began sculpting. He created a number of small bronze statutes of cats, which have been characterized as some of his best work. Starting in 1904, Steinlen began carving designs into leather bindings for limited-edition books, creating about one hundred designs. A room was dedicated to Steinlen’s works at the Salon d’Automne of 1909 and an exhibition of his works was held at the Salon Biedermann in Lausanne in 1913. He continued to work and exhibit until he died of a heart attack in 1923. (TNB 10/2011) Selected bibliography: Cate, Phillip Dennis and Susan Gill. Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen. Exhibition catalog, with an introducton by Herschel B. Chipp. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. 1982. Pianzola, Maurice. Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen. Lausanne: Editions Rencontre, 1971. Stoullig, Claire, and Cécile Roulet-Cugni. Steinlen et l’époque 1900. Exhibition catalog. Geneva: Musés d’art et d’histoire, 1999.