Jules Cheret – The Father of Advertising Posters

Attention grabbing, colorful, and designed to attract passers-by. Posters are such a part of modern life and the environment we live in that we hardly seem to register their presence, but take a closer look around you. From the bedroom walls of teenagers to billboards around town, from shop windows to the sides of buses passing by on the street, they are literally all around us. But why do we surround ourselves like this, why are poster printers so busy and who started it all?

Putting information on walls is something people have done for thousands of years. We know that in ancient Rome and Greece notices were put up on public buildings to inform those who could read about the latest news from the government, or announcing public entertainments and spectacles. But these were hand written and contained only text. Posters as we know them today really came in to being around 150 years ago with the development of the printing process known as color lithography. The basic technique of lithography was invented in 1796 by the German Alois Senefelder, and this was then followed in the 1850s by chromolithography which allowed the addition of color. Being able to mass produce rich, colorful, designs that opened the door for modern poster printing.

The medium was quickly recognized by many artists as a way to express their talents and make a reasonable income at the same time, and it was the French artistic community that first really developed "poster art". Painters like Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha took advantage of the commercial opportunity to produce artwork, that poster printers then copied many times, to attract the attention of passers-by to some event taking place.

Of all the French artists that produced posters, however, Jules Cheret is broadly regarded as the first to really focus on advertising placards. He was an artist and scene decorator by profession, and in 1866 opened a lithography office in Paris to specialize in poster printing. His technique was to use a mix of bright colors, attention grabbing large text and striking designs to catch the eye of passers-by. In order to produce the designs he really wanted though, he had to further develop the lithographic printing technique to include more color and a new typography that allowed for much more vibrant and eye-catching designs. In this way he not only developed the art form, but also the technology of poster production. His business soon soon became the foremost of the poster printers in Paris. Cheret is also said to have introduced sex appeal into advertising by being the first to use more provocative artwork of women on his posters, showing them as laughing and attractive creatures rather than the more demure images the public had been used to up to that point.

In all, he created over 1000 designs to advertise shows, exhibitions and products with his new and innovative approach and so, in a very real sense, Cheret led the way for art to provide an overtly commercial service in advertising.

As businesses recognized the power of this advertising medium, demand increased and others followed Cheret's lead. The fashion caught on, and with poster advertising becoming known as the "art Galleries of the Street", his poster printing talent ensured that advertising posters had well and truly arrived.