cats, you say?
Ask which avant-garde artist Parisians of the 1890s knew best and you might be surprised by the answer. It was not Toulouse-Lautrec or Bonnard. It was Steinlen. It was he whose work drew most critical acclaim. It was also he who influenced Picasso and Braque, Penfield, Sloan, and Hopper. A posterist and printmaker, sculptor, illustrator and humorist, Steinlen's artistic and social impact was powerful.
Born and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, Steinlen was familiarized with art at an early age, as one grandfather had been a lithographer and the other a watercolorist. After two years at University, Steinlen's father recognized his son's interest in art and sent him to a textile manufacturer west of Paris where his talent could be combined with practical job skills.
At the age of 22, Steinlen moved to a section of Paris known as Mont- martre in order to pursue a career in textiles. He was, how- ever, drawn to the lifestyle of artists, poets and musicians. One of his favorite haunts was the Chat Noir (Black Cat) Club where he befriended the renowned playboy Aristide Bruant, a patron of Lautrec. Soon Steinlen was illustrating for Chat Noir magazine and Bruant's magazine Le Mirliton.
Steinlen's drawings were casual scenes of city life until the 1890s when political unrest and economic depression began to influence his style. Steinlen's work was subversive and deep in political satire. He was greatly influenced not only by his peers at the time, who included Lautrec, Willette, and others, but also by contemporary literature. He was a very personal artist using his wife, daughter and family pets in many of his works.Steinlen's works -- his drawings, paintings, and posters -- have such a strong sense of reality that they almost have a sense of movement. The animals may leap at any moment, heavy packages may drop, tears held back may flow. It may be this quality that has made him one of the most loved, most exhibited and most collected posterists of the Belle Epoque. 1
Penfield's success was due, in large measure, to his skill in applying the style of Toulouse-Lautrec and Steinlen to upper-class American subjects.