Ooh-La-La! French Poster Exhibition - Chicago

I had been randomly seeing ads for the Driehaus Museum for the past year and I honestly could not remember this museum prior to my move to Miami in 1999. It turns out that this amazing art & antiques collection owned by Richard J. Driehaus, housed in the Samuel J. Nickerson mansion on Chicago's Near North Side (a stone's throw away from the Magnificent Mile), opened to the public in 2003. Ok, now it made sense! I thought I was slipping a bit! Anyhow, I saw an ad for a French poster show named. "L'Affichomania - The Passion for French Posters" ... I knew that I had to go! 

Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

I was a little apprehensive by the admission fee of $20, but I figured it was a 'one-off' and I was doing it for the art and the experience. After driving around the block twice, I nabbed street parking right by Holy Name Cathedral and I paid for an hour on the meter.

The building exterior is quite impressive in it's Victorian glory. This type of architecture that happened just after the Great Fire of 1871 and just before the Turn of the Century, epitomizes classic Chicago for me.  I loved seeing the poster for the show on the Wabash Avenue side ... I love French posters; I knew that I'd see an Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or two. EXCITED! 

Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

It was a extra-bright sunny summer day, but upon entering the building, my eyes had to adjust to the dimness of the house interior. I was told by the door greeter, they keep it like that to preserve the artwork and furnishings. Makes sense, ok. The Admissions/Box Office is located just beyond the main staircase - I peered into every room on my way back there ... pretty amazing interiors. I felt like I was in a Time Machine transported back to 1897!

The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

The first floor is mostly beautifully furnished rooms ... LOTS of dark polished wood. It's impeccable - NOT a spot of dust ANYWHERE. There's a beautiful Tiffany dome glass ceiling too, of course; I didn't picture it here, but I think a photo doesn't do it justice. You'll have to go and see it for yourself!

I unapologetically was over-hearing a tour that was going on when I got to the second floor and apparently, the interiors are made of cement, stone, marble, iron beams, brick ... there is no plaster and only ornamental wood used. 

The first posters to greet you are Alphonse Mucha's and it's pretty amazing to see them so close! Mucha was born in the Czech Republic in 1860. He started to draw at a very young age and he went to Paris as an adult to complete his studies in 1887. Apparently, there he walked into a print shop that was having a 'call for artists' to design a poster for the most famous entertainer & actress at the time, Sarah Bernhardt ... his submission won! And soon his artwork was plastered all of Paris and that was when his career took off!

Mucha's style is VERY Art Nouveau - lots of organic shapes and swirls. There's always an idealized, young woman in the center of the picture. He gave so much attention to the details, like the patterned backgrounds, hair and clothes. His work is brilliant and it's like a macaroon for the eyes.

The founder of the French Belle Epoque poster is Jules Cheret, without a doubt. He is the mac-daddy of this beautiful ornamental and advertising style. If you compare his work to Grasset, Mucha or Lautrec, you'll see that his work is not as stylized and graphic - and his typography is much more fluid and organic. His models are much more active and athletic ... many are jumping in the air and twisting their bodies in delight. Cheret's work is more painterly and that makes sense as he was self-trained in art history and his artistic heroes were Fragonard and Watteau. 
Cheret lived a long life and he basically lived his later years as a legend. He's the inspiration behind the history of the French poster and his work will be immortalized by Bed, Bath & Beyond products that tout his images; I have a 'memory box' from BB&B with a Cheret image. It's all good! Merci!

Photo by DOMAC.

Photo by DOMAC.

There are some nice touches at the Driehaus, for example, the way-finding signs are appropriate for the style of its time.

Oh, and there were a few Theophile Steinlen posters, but this is his most famous one: La Tournée Du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis, 1896. It's everything you want it to be, up close.

And finally, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec ... another French artistic genius. How gorgeous do these prints look in this room?  Left: Confetti, 1894 and right: Moulin Rouge - La Goulue and both are color lithographs. Whereas the other artists already mentioned are well-known for one or two distinctive pieces, Toulouse-Lautrec is known for MULTIPLE posters and they're all amazing. He was very inspired by the Moulin Rouge, a boozy cabaret in Paris, known to attract artists, writers and party girls & boys from all over. This is another case where a poster kick-started a career - Henri was commissioned to create this large print and he was famous overnight for it. He had a very curious way of treating fore, mid and background space; usually gray figures recede into background space, but Toulouse-Lautrec places a gray-scale gentleman in the foreground ...and he could have stolen the spotlight away from the can-can dancer, but because he is a cool color, he's treated as a secondary character ... and that was a gamble on the artist's part. The forms are simplified and broken into large graphic shapes, but the poster itself, is quite a complex study. The typography is also very nicely handled.

If you have the opportunity to visit the Driehaus Museum, I encourage you to do so and to catch this French poster exhibit that ends January 7, 2018. It's worth the $20! By the way, I became a member and I used my admission towards the membership, which I thought was deal!