Digital Commonwealth

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923). Lithographs, Etchings, and Other Works

Boston Public Library

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Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (French, born Switzerland, 1859-1923) was an illustrator, printmaker, painter, and sculptor.

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Steinlen studied at the University of Lausanne and worked as an apprentice designer in a textile factory before settling in the Montmartre district of Paris in 1881. In 1883, he became a member of the artistic, literary, and musical circle that frequented the Chat Noir cabaret where he met, among others, the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the writer Emile Zola, and the singer and songwriter Aristide Bruant.

Although he created posters, prints, paintings, and sculptures, Steinlen is best known as an illustrator. He began by contributing illustrations to the journal published by the Chat Noir. He went on to become the principal illustrator for the journal and the song books published by Aristide Bruant, and also created numerous covers and illustrations for sheet music and books by other musicians and writers of the 1890s. Throughout his career, Steinlen’s work was informed by his social and political sympathies for the dispossessed and the working class men and women of Montmartre, which can be seen in his covers and illustrations for such socialist journals as Gil Blas illustré, Feuille, and L’Assiette au beurre. During World War I, Steinlen also created lithographs and etchings that portrayed the tragedies and hardships of war.

With a few exceptions, Boston Public Library’s collection of works by Steinlen was acquired through a series of purchases made by the library in 1960. Included are etchings, lithographs, and a drawing. In addition, the collection includes a bronze relief of a cat in repose, one of a number of small sculptures of cats that Steinlen created during the first years of the 20th century. Those sculptures and many of his prints document his fascination with the cat population of Montmartre as well as its people.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

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