René Georges Hermann-Paul was born in Paris on December 27, 1864. He was the son of a wealthy doctor whose family origins were in the South of France. His father charted a course for the boy through science and into the medical profession. For a time René indulged his father’s wishes but science class is no place for a young man with artistic aspirations.
During the Belle Époque, Paris was alive with gay hues. Jules Chéret had returned from London in 1866 where he was trained in color lithography. He applied the technology to poster art. Influenced by the frivolity of French Rocco, Chéret created vivid posters for dance halls, theaters, cabarets and cigarettes. His style found broad appeal. Soon Chéret and his disciplines filled the streets with delightful posters that remain fashionable to this day. Some label Chéret father of the modern poster.
The avant garde was on the move. Baudelaire had long since published a dirty word. And by the 1870s, the Impressionists had already created a sensation. Other movements started to flourish. The Moderns were guided by a sentiment expressed later by Ezra Pound. “Make it new!” he exclaimed. It was not a good time for a young artist to toil in science class. Paris was the center of the art world and Hermann-Paul was in its epicenter. He transferred to the École des Arts Décoratifs where he was a student of Henri Lerolle and Gustave Colin.
In the early 1890s, Hermann-Paul found himself in a circle of artists that included Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Their influence on his work is evident in the pieces that he produced at that time. Collectively they would produce some of the finest posters of the decade but it was Latrec who led the way.
More than any work, Lautrec’s 1891 La Goulue au Moulin Rouge is the definitive work of the poster revolution. While La Goulue displayed elements reminiscent of Chéret, it was very different. Lautrec used an identical color pallet but his work was considerably more vibrant. It introduced the bold color aesthetics that we imagine in 1890s poster art. When he saw it, Andre Mellerio exclaimed, “This is no longer just a poster, yet it is not a print. It is a work of hybrid pungency deriving the two. Yes, it is a modern print.”1 Lautrec had made it new.
The following year, Lautrec produced another five major lithographic works. They were complimented with works by Eugène Grasset and Henri Ibels. The poster revelution was in full swing. It is simplistic to attribute this movement to solely to Lautrec. Eighteen-nineties poster art was the product of a group of young avant garde artists working in and around Paris. It was to them that Paris could credit its gaily illustrated streets.
[Continued: Poster Artist]