Multifaceted artist Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen—at once illustrator, painter, printmaker, and sculptor—spent most of his life in Montmartre, the picturesque epicenter of many avant-garde movements. During his career, which spanned the transition from Art Nouveau to Modernism, Steinlen both produced highly accomplished fine art prints, and also illustrated politically liberal journals, song sheets, restaurant menus, books, and advertisements. His best-known work—the cabaret advertisement La Tournée du Chat Noir, the 1896 poster featuring a black cat silhouetted against a burnt orange background—is now an icon of the “poster craze” circa 1900.
At the BodinièreThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923), At the Bodinière (À la Bodinière), 1894 book, lithograph printed in black and orange inks on wove paper, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.14
Black Cat with Panorama of MontmartreThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923) Black Cat with Panorama of Montmartre (Chat noir avec Panorama de Montmartre), 1895-1910 Engraving and aquatint in black ink on wove paper, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.17
Reclining Cat, Head Resting on His PawsThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923), Reclining Cat, Head Resting on His Paws (Chat couché allongeé de gauche à droite, tête appuyée contre les pattes), 1902 Soft ground etching, aquatint and drypoint on wove paper, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.5
Bad HorseyThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923), Bad Horsey (Le méchant dada) for some cats: Images without words (Des chats: images sans paroles), ca. 1898 black ink on wove paper. Gift of Frank Raysor, 2012.425
Winter: Cat on a PillowThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923) Winter: Cat on a Pillow (L’hiver, Chat sur un coussin), 1909 color lithograph on wove paper, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.3
Pure Pasteurized Milk from the Vingeanne RegionThéophile-Alexandre Steinlen French, born Switzerland (1859-1923), Pure Pasteurized Milk from the Vingeanne Region (Lait pur stérilisé de la Vingeanne), 1894 four-color Lithograph on wove paper. Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.16
This feline-themed exhibition of thirty-two works, comprising both highly stylized as well as tender, realistic images, aims to revive the understanding of and appreciation for Steinlen’s uncanny eye and sinuous line. Though this exhibition focuses exclusively on Steinlen’s images of cats, it also explores his artistic growth as he experimented with a range of styles, such as Realism, Japonisme, Art Nouveau, and Post-Impressionism, over the course of his career.
Steinlen: Cats coincides with the University of Richmond’s exhibition Steinlen: Humanity (Nov 30, 2017–Mar 30, 2018), which examines the artist’s humanitarian, social, and political themes. Both exhibitions, which were conceived as complementary, produced in collaboration, and meant to be seen in tandem, involved the efforts of members of the museum and academic communities of VMFA and the University of Richmond, as well as Virginia Commonwealth University.
All works in this exhibition are from the Frank Raysor Collection, a generous ongoing gift to VMFA.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Maxine Hornung.
Curated for VMFA by Dr. Mitchell Merling, Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, with Taylor M. Dean, Art History/Museum Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Winter: Cat on a pillow (L’hiver, Chat sur un coussin), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, French, born Switzerland (1859-1923) 1909, Color lithograph on wove paper, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, FR.6002.3