Theophile Steinlen Artist Biography

Théophile Steinlen is well-known for being very fond of cats. He drew them, painted them, and sculpted them. He tried to translate every imaginable subtlety of their poses and movements. His house on the Rue Caulaincourt in Paris was, according to contemporary accounts, a meeting place for all the cats of the quarter. In his early, years as an artist, he would sell drawings of cats in exchange for food, and in later years a cat would usually appear in most of his drawings, magazine illustrations, lithographs or posters, almost to the point of being a sort of signature.

Théophile Steinlen was born in Lausanne (Swiss) on 10 November 1859. He studied philosophy at the university there and went on to accept a position as a trainee textile designer in Mulhouse, a town and commune in eastern France. At the age of 19, the young artist was persuaded by the painter Francois-Louis David Bocion, his tutor at the university, to move to the Montmartre district of Paris where he quickly established, lived and worked for the rest of his life.

In 1883, the illustrator Adolphe Willette introduced him to the avant-garde literary and artistic environment of the Chat Noir cabaret which had been founded in 1881 by another Swiss expatriate, Rodolphe Salis. Théophile Steinlen soon became an illustrator of its satirical and humorous journal, Chat Noir, and an artistic collaborator with writers such as Emile Zola, poets such as Jean Richepin, composers such as Paul Delmet, artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and, most important, the singer and songwriter Aristide Bruant, all of whom he encountered at the Chat Noir. Aristide Bruant’s lyrics incorporate the argot of the poor, the worker, the rogue, the pimp and the prostitute, for whom Théophile Steinlen’s empathy had been awakened on reading Zola’s novel L’Assommoir (1877).

In 1884 he held his first exhibition at La Bodinière. In 1885, Théophile Steinlen drew the first of his famous posters: a poster for the Hotel de Paris in Trouville sur Mer. Posters for La Compagnie Francaise, the Cabaret Le Chat Noir and many others followed.

In 1911, Théophile Steinlen founded the paper "Les Humorists" together with Forain and Léandre and worked as a book illustrator. From 1893 he exhibited his works at the Salon des Indépendants and later regularly held exhibitions at the Salon des Humoristes. Politically opposed to the war, he drew numerous posters against World War I.

Théophile Steinlen died in 1923 in Paris and was laid to rest in the Cimetire Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.

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