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Feast your eyes on posters by French printmaker Jules Chéret, who helped popularize the Moulin Rouge. A dozen artworks, in eye-catching jewel tones, shine in an exhibition on view now.

Curators too often take a “more is more” approach to exhibition planning. If one Picasso is good, the thinking seems to go, then 10 must be better, even if nine are slapdash doodles scrawled on pieces of scrap paper.

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. 


‘Poster Boy’ appears in the March 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning February 26, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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