The Milwaukee Art Museum shows some admirable restraint with “Designing Paris: The Posters of Jules Chéret“ on view through Apr. 29. The exhibition features a scant 16 works, a tiny fraction of the nearly 600 Chéret posters that local collectors James and Susee Wiechmann donated to the museum last year.
Each of the selected works sheds light on some aspect of the French artist’s career, such as his early adoption of color lithography. Or his collaborations with the Moulin Rouge and the Folies-Bergère, rowdy cabarets that captured the spirit of fin-de-siècle Paris.
Visitors can breeze through the single-gallery exhibition in a few minutes, but detailed wall texts reward those who stick around longer. Read them and learn, for instance, that Chéret (1836-1932) is widely credited with the invention of the artistic poster – he was the first commercially successful artist to creatively combine image and text in advertisements.
And the wall texts are only half as interesting as the works themselves, which are vibrant and expressive, like the cabaret dancers that Chéret so often depicted. Taken together, they paint a colorful picture of life in Paris at the turn of the last century.