The draftsmen, engraver, cartoonist, illustrator, poster-designer, painter, and sculptor Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923) put his talents as an observer of society to work in his political activism. “What’s the use of preaching? You have to act. The world is not going as it ought to go…”. Born in Lausanne, living and working in Paris starting in 1881, he joined the artists who gravitated around the famous literary cabaret Le Chat noir and became a regular contributor to their review, quickly earning a reputation as one of the best illustrators of his day. Amusing or mordant, his drawings were featured in the pages of children’s periodicals, including Aristide Bruant’s Le Mirliton and especially Gil Blas illustré, which was his bread and butter. And with the same prolific output he furnished socialist-oriented anti-establishment subjects to politically committed newspapers like Le chambard socialiste, L’assiette au beurre, and La feuille. Always siding with the lower classes, he denounced the injustices and violence of his day, in particular with his famous World War I prints describing the terrible butchery of the trenches. This public side of his art practice was the most widely known and guaranteed him an international reputation, but Steinlen was also a painter of private intimate scenes. Within his family circle, he sketched his loved-ones, models, and pet cats with great tenderness, producing drawings and prints that display his pleasant disposition, sympathetic unprejudiced eye, and spontaneous embrace of life in all its aspects.
The show is putting on display for the first time numerous pieces from the exceptional gift made to the museum by the couple Paul and Tina Stohler, fervent admirers of the artist and his work. The exhibition also creates a dialogue between this extensive group of works and the museum’s permanent collection, which the former have recently enriched. Swipe of the claws and velvet paws: Steinlen, who passed away one hundred years ago, grabs viewers and gets their minds working, moves them, too, today just as he did in the past.