Paris was the capital of spectacle and pleasure in the second half of the nineteenth century, with Montmartre as the epicentre.
Café-concerts, dance-halls, and theatres sprouted up like mushrooms, while travelling circuses and fairs set up on the outskirts of the city. Entertainment was an inexhaustible source of inspiration for printmakers looking to depict modern life with all its rough edges.
At the same time, it provided them with paid work in the form of commissions for posters and illustrations for sheet music and theatre programmes.
Artists and their public
Artists explored entertainment from every angle. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri-Gabriel Ibels were brilliant portraitists of artistes, both performing and behind the scenes.
Their subjects’ features are often portrayed with an element of caricature.
Félix Vallotton and Jean-Emile Laboureur, meanwhile, immortalised the crowds of Parisians and day-trippers who came in droves to the World Exhibitions and to dance-halls to indulge in the pleasures of the moment.
Entertainment on a smaller scale
Many night-spots became increasingly commercial, which triggered a reaction in the 1880s with a movement towards small-scale theatres and clubs like the Théâtre de l’Œuvre and Le Chat Noir.
These places were hotbeds for artists, writers and intellectuals, who worked together on a gesamtkunstwerk combining music, literature and visual art.
Printmakers designed programmes for them, sometimes taking entertainment as such as their subject, but mostly focusing on the theme of the production itself.
Phillip Dennis Cate et al., The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905, New Brunswick 1996
Richard Thomson et al., Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, Washington 2005
C. Leribault et al., Paris 1900. La ville spectacle, Paris 2014