Théophile Alexandre Steinlen(1859 – 1923)
Private collection, Switzerland; Sold Art Pictural, 20 July, 2013 2013
Born in Switzerland, the French draftsman, printmaker, sculptor and painter Alexandre-Théophile Steinlen studied at the Universtity at Lausanne. Following an apprenticeship as a textile designer in a factory in Mulhouse, in eastern France, Steinlen moved to Paris in 1881. He settled in Montmartre and soon became a leading figure in Montmartre’s richly layered cultural environment, at once popular, avant-garde, literary, musical and visual. In 1883 he began his lifelong association with the Chat Noir cabaret which had been founded by Swiss expatriate Rodolphe Salis. As illustrator of the journal Chat Noir, Steinlen worked with writers and artists such as Emile Zola and Toulouse-Lautrec, and the great Montmartre chansonier, Aristide Bruant. Steinlen was an enormously prolific lithographer, poster designer, and illustrator of texts and sheet music related to the Parisian working classes, and political themes, and achieved greater popularity and recognition among the general public during his lifetime than Toulouse-Lautrec.
In this study of gladiolas, Steinlen’s characteristically bold lines and powerful graphic contrasts are brought to bear on a closely observed subject, taken directly from nature and viewed at an intimate range. According to Philippe Kaenel (cited above), it is a study for one of the floral still lifes that Steinlen produced in the late 1910s, such as Bouquet des Roses, signed and dated 1919, in the Museée d’Orsay (RF 33982, pastel on blue-gray paper, 60 x 48 cm). Executed mostly in pastel, though sometimes in watercolor (and more rarely in oil), these floral still lifes appeared regularly in Steinlen’s exhibitions during the late 1910s and early 1920s.
It also possible that our study is related to a poster or illustration project rather than one of the floral still lifes. Drawings that clearly belong to Steinlen’s series of floral still lifes were executed in ink, including two that are housed in the Louvre (RF 33906), in which the artist places the flowers on the sheet in the same type of composition as the final work. By contrast, our crayon and chalk study fills the large sheet with flowers, and arranges the long stems and large blooms in a manner that recalls Steinlen’s compositions for posters and lithographic illustrations, as in his striking poster of daffodils for the Théatre Chat Noir.
Whether related to a planned (or realized) poster or still life pastel, the present sheet, with its very precise notations of color in the stems, leaves, and flowers, belongs to a period towards the end of Steinlen’s life in which he delighted in the flower garden of his country home in Jouy-le-Moutier (Seine-et-Oise). Steinlen carefully documented the design and evolution of the flower garden in his “Livre de jardin” of 1906-1914 (with some interruptions) and 1917 -1918. As Kaenel writes, Steinlen’s floral studies exist “at opposite poles” from the socially and politically engaged depictions of the Paris streets, workers, and popular entertainments—the works that had made his reputation over the previous decades: “It’s a bit as if the artist aspired to the pleasure of nature itself, and projected onto the flowers the desire for purity that he also satisfied in observing animals.” Steinlen’s prints, drawings and sculptures of cats were an important part of his production in the first decade of the twentieth century, and his work from life during these later years, from floral still lifes to cats, landscapes, and languorous nudes, have a decidedly private, intimate, cast.