Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gueules Noires: the mining lithographs of Theophile Alexandre Steinlen

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923) is celebrated for his posters for the Chat Noir nightclub, and his lithographs of languid ladies with cats. But he also had a strong social conscience, and in this post I want to look at his powerful images of working men, and in particular his lithographs for the novel Les Gueules Noires (The Miners, literally The Black Mouths or Black Faces) by Emile Morel. This novel is a kind of companion piece to the more famous Germinal by Steinlen's friend Emile Zola. It was published in 1907 by E. Sansot, with 16 lithographs by Steinlen printed by Eugène Vernan. The ordinary edition on wove paper has no limitation, though it is not common. In addition to this trade edition there were 25 copies on Japon Impérial and 5 copies on Chine; these numbered copies have the lithographs in two states, in black as in the regular edition and in sanguine. I have no. 10 of the 25 copies on Japon. Here are the paper wraps, in both states:

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Sortie de la mine (Crauzat 269)
Lithograph, 1907


Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Sortie de la mine (Crauzat 269)
Lithograph, 1907 (sanguine version, without lettering)


As this was the cover of the book, inevitably there are folds either side of the spine, and this image is particularly vulnerable to damage and paper loss. There exists an unfolded poster incorporating the cover lithograph, a lovely thing that can be seen in this post at Livrenblog. There are visual similarities with an earlier lithograph, Ouvriers sortant de l'usine:


Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Ouvriers sortant de l'usine (Crauzat 254)
Lithograph, 1903

These two lithographs alone show a powerful empathy with the industrial workforce that was rare among artists and art-lovers at this time. Although the Impressionists incorporated factory chimneys into their landscapes, their figure studies and interiors reflect the life of the well-to-do, not the poor. Vincent van Gogh, of course, plunged himself with heroic compassion into the lives of the mining families of Belgium, and Frank Brangwyn (about whom I'll post at some future date) was making similar studies of factory workers at the same time as Steinlen. Steinlen's friendship with Zola, and his position as a regular contributor to the left-leaning satirical journals Le Rire and L'Assiette au Beurre, mark him as someone who regarded art as an instrument of social change as well a means of personal expression. There is something quite haunting to me about the hunched and desperate figures in the lithographs for Les Gueules Noires, and the grim attention that Steinlen pays to the tiny details of their daily lives. Here are the fifteen single-page lithographs, alternately in sanguine and black:

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Descente (Crauzat 270)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Le Mouilleur (Crauzat 271)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Paye (Crauzat 272)
Lithograph, 1907


Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Idylle (Crauzat 273)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Les Trieuses
Lithograph, 1907
(N.B. Crauzat left this lithograph out of his catalogue raisonné by mistake, presumably misled by the fact that the cover claims a total of 15 lithographs when there are actually 16; hence the title for this lithograph is mine, and I suggest a catalogue number of Crauzat 273a)

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Solitude (Crauzat 274)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, L'Train des Gueules Noires (Crauzat 275)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Le Marchand de gaufres (Crauzat 276)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Combat des coqs (Crauzat 277)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Baptême (Crauzat 278)
Lithograph, 1907
(Crauzat 279 is a redrawn version of this subject for a subsequent edition)

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Le Directeur (Crauzat 280)
Lithograph, 1907
(Crauzat 281 is a redrawn version of this subject for a subsequent edition)

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Catastrophe (Crauzat 282)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Reconnaissance (Crauzat 283)
Lithograph, 1907

 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, L'enterrement (Crauzat 284)
Lithograph, 1907

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Veillée (Crauzat 285)
Lithograph, 1907

My final image must be one of the last created by Steinlen, who died on 14 December 1923 at the age of 64; it shows his continuing commitment to recording the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Le Vagabond
Etching, published posthumously in 1924

 Ernest de Crauzat (who compiled the catalogue raisonné of his prints) concluded a tribute to Steinlen published in Byblis in 1927 with the simple words, "Steinlen ne quittera plus jamais Montmartre": Steinlen will never again leave Montmartre.

3 comments:

Jane Librizzi said...

As soon as I begna reading I thought of Zola and "Germinal." It's good to be reminded of "La Descente" which was used as the cover illustration on my copy of "Germinal." I was fourteen and the French teacher would read a chapter of the novel to us on Fridays if we had completed all the week's required work. The old woman and the vagabond are are moving too, but I don't recall seeing them before.

Neil said...

Hi Jane - Steinlen made drawings for L'Assomoir, but not I think for other works by Zola - a shame, really, he would have been the perfect illustrator for Germinal or for Nana.

anna Sonata said...

Very nice, thanks for the information.
Anna @ sewa mobil