Musée Grévin, Pantomimes Lumineuses by Jules Chéret, Silent film lithograph, 1896


Jules Chéret’s poster advertising the Théâtre Optique (Optical Theatre) immortalized a momentous convergence of technology, culture, history, and art with the 1892 debut of Emile Reynaud’s praxinoscope at the Musée Grévin in Paris. Reynaud presented his Pantomimes Lumineuses, the world’s first animated films, using his innovative system which projected light through moving pictures to offer illuminated pantomimes. Among the three short films Reynaud screened through his praxinoscope was Pauvre Pierrot (Poor Pierrot), a story of Pierrot courting Columbine based on the timeless archetypal love triangle featured in many Commedia dell’arte pantomimes.

As a member of the Cercle Funambulesque (roughly “Friends of the Tightrope-walkers”), a French society which championed the contemporary creation of Commedia dell-arte-inspired pantomimes, Jules Chéret was often inspired by Pierrot and produced a large number of works depicting him, often with his beloved Columbine. Cheret’s involvement with the Cercle, combined with the immense popularity of these archetypes in the late 19th century, meant that they appeared frequently in his works.

This work comes from the extremely scarce edition of 25 strikes on Imperial Japon paper, a mulberry bark-based stock inspired by the smooth-surfaced papers used in Japanese printmaking. This world-class example of lithography captures superior resolution and color-richness to that of its large-format counterpart. The use of marbled Imperial Japon paper allows inks to rest upon its surface rather than being absorbed by a more porous paper stock. An extremely scarce fraction of the edition of 25 are estimated to have survived to date.

Stone lithograph of Jules Chéret’s Musée Grévin, Pantomimes Lumineuses, Théâtre optique de E. Reynaud, musique de Gaston Paulin. Published by Imprimerie Chaix (Ateliers Chéret), 1896.

Paper measures 8 9/16 x 12 7/16 inches. Extremely minor surface abrasion in margins, only visible under certain lighting conditions. Image remains impeccaple, will frame beautifully. This piece is presented in an archival-quality rag mat and arrives accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Notable museum collections containing this work include: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (41.12.119) (Large-format version); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2012.8034) (Small lithographic version on cardstock); Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan (73.63) (Large-format version); Science Museum Group (Large-format version)
Notable museum collections featuring works by Jules Chéret include: Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C; and more.