Many fin-de-siècle prints feature artistes: from famous actors, dancers, and singers from the theatre and café-concert to anonymous entertainers who performed in the circus, at fairs, and during World Exhibitions. For artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri-Gabriel Ibels, they were the ultimate representatives of modern life in the metropolis of Paris, where entertainment developed into a lucrative industry.
Cult of Celebrity
The artistes who were best able to entertain or shock the audience became celebrities.
The hype surrounding people of relatively humble origins, intellect, or education was a new phenomenon: a cult fed by the emergence of publicity photographs and the illustrated press, but also by the posters, sheet music and autonomous prints created by contemporary printmakers.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s widely displayed posters with caricature portraits of stars like Aristide Bruant and Jane Avril not only added to the fame of these performers, but also that of the artist himself.
Less famous artistes were often depicted in prints as types. Ibels was the master when it came to immortalising workers like this, who earned their living as clowns, acrobats and wrestlers. His comical prints express a clear sympathy for these demi-cabots (marginal artistes).
Georges d’Esparbes et al., Demi Cabots. Le Café-Concert, Le Cirque, Les Forains, Paris 1896
Phillip Dennis Cate, The Graphic Arts and French Society, New Brunswick 1988
Richard Thomson et al., Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, Washington 2005