Théophile Alexandre Steinlen

The collection covers the entire body of work of the artist.

The Belle Époque evokes a period of gaiety and bon-vivre so well depicted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous actors, actresses and performers in the luxurious café-concerts and theaters. Almost all his works represent life behind the closed walls of these temples of pleasure.

But there is another side to the Belle Époque very few artists focused on. A side populated by all the middle class and working class individuals who were essential in building the boulevards where these music halls and theaters operated. Supply them with whatever materials they needed to entertain the crowds. Doing the cleaning and laundry necessary to keep the Belle Époque humming. Indeed, the majority of the Parisian population was busy and working hard contributing to this euphoria. How did these people’s lives look like? How were they making a living? How hard was it to be a working individual during this period?

This was T.A. Steinlen’s concern and artistic focus throughout his entire career. An artist who paid attention to people’s everyday lives and vicissitudes.

He did not spend much time in the café-concerts and theaters. He preferred the less glamorous bars of Montmartre like the famous Chat Noir or the Mirliton where Aristide Bruant performed.

Surprisingly, during his lifetime, he was more famous than Lautrec. Anatole France, the famous writer and Academician, waited two years for Steinlen to complete the illustrations of his book before publishing it! He also declared “this is the most moving picture I have ever seen” referring to one advertising poster Steinlen designed for a milk company.

Steinlen followed the same path as all the Montmartre artists of the Belle Époque. He was considered the best poster designer of his time surpassing by far Lautrec’s reputation. Among his oeuvre we find book illustrations, lithographs, posters and, even surpassing Norman Rockwell’s Washington Post contribution, he appeared in more than 2000 magazine covers and articles. He also was very active in newspaper full page imagery with satirical political content.

Then the Belle Époque ended and World War I started and erased all that constituted the joie de vivre in Paris. We do have Steinlen to show us what WWI was like and how the working and middle class coped with going to war leaving behind families who soon would be widowed and orphaned. Steinlen depicted in very strong imagery the Great War’s devastation. He produced War Posters and numerous lithographs of soldiers and war scenes to help his audience understand the ravages of war.

Steinlen survived the war and lived a few more years after it ended but his work continues to remind us that the Belle Époque came thanks to the sacrifices of the working people.


The collection covers the entire body of work of the artist. It consists of more than 200 works divided into sections:

Drawings: there are more than 100 complete drawings. There are portraits of men and women, but also workers and some landscapes, the majority in large format. An interesting section of about 40 small-sized women and men’s portraits show his ability to give expression to their faces. There are also a few preliminary sketches for magazine covers, posters, etc.

Lithographs: there are both pre-war and wartime lithographs. About 60 works cover this section.

Posters: the collection includes more than 40 advertising posters including the Chat Noir, his most iconic image. But there is also a 91” by 116” inch poster “La Rue” the only other known copy of which is at the MOMA. This and several other posters in the collection are Before Letters. All his famous posters are included in the collection. Of note is a series of 3 drawings, a proposal for an advertising poster of the Galleries Lafayette, the largest department store of Paris.

Magazines & Newspapers: Steinlen was a very prolific contributor to many literary and humoristic magazines. The collection has a few hundred of them, particularly of Gil Blas.

Book Illustrations: there are many such books but the collection includes two special edition books which include a special section with about 240 original lithographs.


Of course, there can be no exhibition of Steinlen without the poster “Le Chat Noir”. Because of its success there were many copies and versions made of this poster of various sizes over time. The original posters were smaller, designed to be affixed to walls in the neighborhood of Montmartre.
The very large poster “La Rue” of which the only other known copy is at the MOMA, is ideal as an introduction to any exhibition.

Several posters are Before Letters and a couple are accompanied by an original preliminary drawing.
The exhibition includes many complete drawings, including a portrait of the granddaughter of Victor Hugo.

An important part of the collection covers the business relationship of Steinlen and Aristide Bruant. Steinlen was the de facto illustrator of Bruant’s books and magazines and many of his preliminary drawings are on display along with Bruant’s signed poems.

Exhibition Materials

High-resolution images, captions, and wall texts.


Approximately 275 linear meters (depending on the installation).


  • Geographic location of storage: U.S.A.
  • All works are shipped framed as per international museum standards.
  • Collection includes the necessary international shipping crates and packing materials ensuring safe ‘nail to nail” transport.
  • Collection is comprehensive, covering a substantial part of the artist’s body of work making it capable of serving as a stand-alone exhibition.
  • Museum curators are provided with extensive information and may curate the exhibition to their specifications.
  • Collection may be expanded or complemented with art from the borrowing museum’s own collections.
  • Collection provides endless opportunities for the development of educational programs, which we can assist with.

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (November 10, 1859 – December 13, 1923), was a Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker.

He began his artistic career as a designer of printed fabrics. In 1881, he moved to Paris, settling in Montmartre, and began to frequent the literary cabaret known as Le Chat Noir. It was there Steinlen met and befriended writers, such as Paul Verlaine, and artists Jean-Louis Forain, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Louis Anquetin, Henry Somm, Adolphe Willette, Félix Vallotton, and Caran d’Ache, among others. The artists of Le Chat Noir established something of a private club or society of aesthetes. Steinlen was soon contributing illustrations to the associated journal Le Chat Noir, and this success led him to become one of the foremost illustrators in Paris at the turn of the century.

Following the 1881 lifting of censorship in France and the passing of the Law on the Freedom of the Press, the production of politically focused artistic and literary ephemera flourished. From journals, periodicals, and newspapers to party invitations and public posters, the visual and literary arts quickly flooded the city with social discourse. This suited artists like Steinlen perfectly. Though he created a number of paintings in his lifetime, it does not compare to the endless volume of politically focused ephemera he devoted his career to making. Steinlen was a socialist and a relentless supporter of working-class rights. Upon his move to Montmartre, the artist quickly engaged with the leftist community in France. He regularly contributed to the art-criticism periodical Gil Blas, the leftist satire journal Le Rire, the Marxist periodical Le Chambard Socialiste, and the anarchist paper La Feuille, as well as other publications and novels, often without compensation.

Like his contemporaries Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha, he was also active as a designer of theatrical and cabaret posters; an important means of disseminating his work, and one that greatly added to his popularity. A friend and collaborator of the songwriter Aristide Bruant, Steinlen provided illustrations for sheet music covers, and also illustrated a number of books, including Guy de Maupassant’s Le Vagabond and Anatole France’s L’Affaire Crainquebille.

As a draughtsman, Steinlen employed a wide variety of media, including black, blue, and colored chalks, ink, pencil, watercolor, and charcoal. His fondness for animals, and, in particular, cats, was noted even as early as his schooldays, when he drew sketches of cats in the margins of his notebooks. Cats seem to have appealed to Steinlen for their charm, movement, and character, as well as for their symbolic properties.

Between 1883 and 1920, he produced hundreds of illustrations, a number of which were done under a pseudonym so as to avoid political problems because of their harsh criticisms of social ills. His art influenced the work of other artists, including Pablo Picasso.

Théophile Steinlen died in 1923 in Paris and was buried in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.

Read More Read Less
Related Exhibitions
No related exhibitions found for this collection. See all exhibitions