Written by FDAC Board Member Sharifa T. Lookman ’17
Jules Chéret (French, 1836 – 1932). Vin Mariani, 1894. Color lithograph printed in five colors on wove paper. DAC accession no. 1966.2.1. Open Access Image from the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University. (photo: M. Johnston).
Mid-leap, her voluptuous skirt flies up. The fabric hugs her torso and thighs, while the tail of her skirt billows around her in the movement. She appears mid performance, smiling with blushed cheeks at an invisible audience in the upper left, as she fills a wine glass with a flourish. Her lips form an impish grin: a promise for this perfect drink.
This illustration of youth and levity is an advertisement for “Vin Mariani” wine, executed as a lithograph by French painter and lithographer Jules Chéret in 1894. Though originally schooled in Paris, Chéret was trained in lithography in London, where he was influenced by English posters. Upon returning to France, Chéret pursued poster design and revolutionized propagandist illustration and advertisements for cabarets and theaters, and later commercial products, such as perfume and wine.
In lithography the print is run through the press for each individual color, in this case five times for the colors grey, pink, blue, yellow, and red. Despite the use of so few pigments, the piece represents a rather full and vibrant palette due to the way the different colors overlay and mix with one another. This work exhibits on of Chéret’s great techniques, called crachet, in which the plate is inked sparingly using a tool akin to a toothbrush. This gives a speckled and unsaturated surface, clearly seen in the light blue haze surrounding the central figure. The densest portion of color mixing is evident in the wine bottle itself, accentuating it as the focus of the advertisement. With five colors alone Chéret creates volume and dynamism.
Excellent in technique and captivating to the eyes, this print is representative of a time when art was developing and thriving as a mode of communication. At the core this poster was a means to an end, namely to garner publicity, but its visual presence and dynamism elevates it, like so many 19th century French publicity posters, to an art form that garnered appreciation from its contemporary audience. Today we see this piece in context of its history but, if that is stripped away, it still remains true to its original function and, with vibrancy, health, laughter, and a good glass of wine, makes quite a convincing sales pitch.