Théophile Steinlen & the Copy Cats

Théophile Steinlen was a Swiss artist working in Montmartre during La Belle Époque, the period that gave us Art Nouveau and the rise of the great artists Gauguin, Matisse, and Toulouse-Lautrec.  And this era also gave us Steinlen.  His painting showed in the Salon des Indépendants alongside Cézanne, van Gogh, Seurat, and others.  He created beautiful portraits and landscapes, contributed illustrations for books and newspapers, and most famously created posters for nightclubs, products, and social causes.

Arguably Steinlen’s most well known work today, Tournee du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis was a poster created for the nightclub Le Chat Noir in 1896.  It is surprising that this is Steinlen’s lasting piece of art.  He painted many non advertising paintings for one, and there were gems among them that remain well known today.  The poster only had around a year of use before the nightclub closed, making its continued familiarity improbable.  Still, it endured and today is one of the most used pieces of art on posters and notepads, mugs and phone cases.

It’s almost an insult to say that Tournee du Chat Noir is well-known.  It is iconic.  It is definitive.  Post-impressionism without Steinlen is like Arts and Crafts without William Morris.  It lacks an essential piece.  Unfortunately, Steinlen doesn’t get the attention today that he did when he was working and living among the art giants of that day.  In spite of the artists name fading into history, Le Chat Noir is so much a part of the fabric of the art world, that it is one of the most homaged pieces in history.  Munch’s The Scream and Wood’s American Gothic enjoy the same level of parody.  They are a part of who we are.  This iconic black cat is also a part of who we are.  Here are some examples I found, some Steinlen’s own copies of his work, but most parodies and homages.

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