The lithograph poster ‘ Lautrec reine de joie ‘ translates in English to ‘Lautrec Queen of Joy’. It was first printed in 1892 in a huge print run for its time, estimated at between one and three thousand prints.The image depicts a scene from the novel ‘The Queen of joy, the world of easy virtue’, by the polish writer Victor Joze, that the poster was advertising. In the image a female prostitute sits on a large mans lap, giving him a kiss. They are in a restaurant sitting at a table, set for dining. In this scene the prostitute is negotiating with the man, a wealthy banker, how much she will be paid.
Lithographs had become popular for both advertising and artwork by the 1890’s because they could reproduce multiple copies of detailed artwork.
“Lithography works on the principle that grease and water repel each other. There is no carving involved. The artist draws on a stone with a greasy crayon and then covers the stone with a thin film of water. The oily ink will stick to the greasy image but not to the water-covered areas.”artsmia (2008).
The 1890’s was a period in France when anti-semitism was rife and Lautrecs poster is an example of how attitudes and art of the times showed the Jewish people as greedy and rich. ‘1890s, the Dreyfus decade in which anti-Semitic rhetoric soared’..Ruth E. Iskin.(2009)
In this example this is amplified by the banker also being portrayed as fat which was equated with greed.This lithograph advertisement was targeted towards an audience of book readers who were very possibly non jewish as the book held significant anti Jewish sentiment. Readership would have been for the wealthy and literate, trendy, riskay and fashionable, possibly elite. It ‘Represents an elderly banker as a lascivious, balding, pot-bellied Jew whose ethnic nose is pinned down by a vigorous kiss from a dark-haired, red-lipped courtesan” ‘Ruth E. Iskin .(2009) This was a key scene in the story, and makes the content externally visible.
Art Nouveau was popular throughout Europe during the period of 1890-1910. "Art Nouveau" meaning "new art" in French was a new style, had a prolific global impact and followed on from the impressionist movement.
The industrial, and in France, the political revolution had brought about huge changes to society. Art reflected these changes both with the influences from the pacific and Japan and the widening of visual topics and style.
“Its serious adherents viewed it as the answer to a serious problem that had become apparent by the end of the 19th century: to find a style suitable for the industrial age rather than, as the academically trained architects of the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts were doing, applying past styles to contemporary works.” E. M. Plunkett (1997)
Lautrec may have been instructed on which scene would be depicted in lithograph or he may have made the decision himself. The composition and layout is off balance almost lopsided. It has an asymmetrical balance. Art Nouveau was inspired by natural organic shapes and forms this is reflected in the image by the curves and organic brush strokes, highly linear shapes with emphasis on contours. The poster attracts attention with high contrast vibrant colors red, yellow and rich blacks.
“The lithograph presents a radically flattened space, figures with virtually no graduated shading, Japanese-inspired simplifications, clear silhouettes, and stark colors.”Ruth E Iskin(2009)
The main focal point is the woman’s face and the kiss. Our eyes wander over this area before referring to the text, then focus again on the entire image.The bright dress the woman wears draws emphasis to her.The upper background of bright colour attracts the viewers eye to the characters who tell a story. The texture is flat and in perspective with the second man being smaller in the distance.
“That the poster was designed as an advertisement explains the prominent compositional placement of Lautrec’s bold lettering—loosely drawn olive green letters sprawling across the lower part of the poster, superimposed on the flattened table facing the spectator. They announce: “Reine de joie/ par /Victor Joze/ chez/ tous les/ libraires’ “Reine de joie/ by /Victor Joze/ at all/ bookstores” Ruth E. Iskin (2009)
The font style is organic in shape and written with thick brush strokes, printed in both upper and lower case. As the text becomes smaller the kerning and leading becomes tighter and there is a justification whereby the words fit into the space available and are arranged loosely.
The lines and bright colour, the curves and the action of the couple all work towards giving the viewer a sense of movement and rhythm, the kiss is happening. The two parts are divided by the diagonal line of the table the upper half is rich in colour with few muted tones,the bottom is opposite, few bright colours, mostly muted tones. The text fits into the bottom half easily and the background images of the bottom half do not distract from the main image and are in a cream soft tone . Corresponding colours appear in both upper and lower halves which provide harmony and unity.There is a strong unity between the Imagery, layout and text which is clear,well thought out and purposeful.
The outlines of the figures are different colours, this is an interesting aspect of the lithograph, that creates contrast. The red of the prostitutes dress continues into the outline her face and arms which emphasizes the interaction between the two characters. The colour of the seat, red, also provides a stronger connection between them which keeps us focused on the couple rather than only the woman. If the chairs colour was different this effect may not be so obvious. The colours used in the text filter into the outline of the man and colour his remaining hair. This is a muted shade of green and this colour and the expression in the way he is kissing the woman assumes he has a calm nature.
I am not surprised that Toulouse Lautrec became a renowned artist of the Art Nouveau period. His use of composition and colour in the creation of a new style was innovative, clever, and highly effective even when viewed today. The size and obvious popularity of the print runs means that he is still a familiar artist to us nearly 200 years later.
Perceptive Graphic Designer thinking out of the box for discerning clients.