Shadow theatre had existed since the eighteenth century as a simple family entertainment, but it developed at Le Chat Noir into a genuine Gesamtkunstwerk.
Between 1885 and 1897, the printmaker Henri Rivière created over forty shows, on which about twenty artists worked at a time.
Fairytale worlds were evoked using figures cut out of zinc that were moved behind a curtain illuminated by a bright light.
These were fully-fledged theatre performances, with painted sets, sound effects and words and music by contemporary composers.
Artists were inspired by the shadow theatre to use silhouettes in their prints, but other prints also related directly to the performances.
The latter were announced, for instance, by posters designed by Rivière and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen. Rivière also took the initiative to create an illustrated edition of the words and music of the play La Marche à l’étoile.
Mariel Oberthür, Le Chat Noir 1881-1897, Paris 1992
Phillip Dennis Cate et al., The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905, New Brunswick 1996
Phillip Dennis Cate et al., Around the Chat Noir. Arts and Pleasures in Bohemian Montmartre, 1880-1910, Paris 2012