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Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (French, born Switzerland, 1859-1923), Bal de Barrière, 1898, photo lithograph on wove paper. Museum purchase, H2017.04.02
Nov 10, 2017
throughMar 30, 2018

Steinlen: Humanity

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The University of Richmond Museums presents STEINLEN: Humanity on view from November 10, 2017 to March 30, 2018, in the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art. The exhibition features works by the prolific poster artist, illustrator, printmaker, painter, and sculptor, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (French, born Switzerland, 1859-1923) and examines the artist’s growing concern for humanitarian, social, and political issues over the course of his lifetime. Included is a selection of works that range from Steinlen’s involvement in the avant-garde art circles of Montmartre to his political engagement in the 1890s and leading up to the outbreak of World War I.

About the artist

The artistic community of Montmartre, located in the northern part of Paris, was home to Steinlen for most of his life and served as the backdrop for much of his work. The cheap rent and liberal ideology attracted artists, intellectuals, and writers to the district. By the end of the 1800s, Montmartre became a center for the entertainment industry where members of the bourgeoisie could escape the pressures of high society and indulge themselves. The eclectic mix of individuals that roamed about the streets of Montmartre served as Steinlen’s subjects throughout his life.

Steinlen ventured into a career in the graphic arts, collaborating with the artists, writers, singer-songwriters, and publishers he met at the cabaret Le Chat Noir. In the mid-1880s, he contributed illustrations to cabaret journals as well as creating the covers to sheet-music for popular songs performed by the leading chansonniers of Montmartre’s cabarets. Partnering with Aristide Bruant (French, 1851–1925), who sang about class struggle and the harsh realities of urban life in his chansons realistes, Steinlen clearly conveyed such themes in his illustrations.  

As the nation of France experienced heightened political unrest at the close of the 19th century, Steinlen devoted himself to humanitarian causes. Amidst a rapidly industrializing nation, the artist drew attention to the plight of the poor man in his depictions of factory workers and vagabonds. In the late 1890s, he contributed to socialist and anarchist magazines such as Le Feuille, and sought to underline human suffering and exploitation in his illustrations. As the echoes of war swept over Europe, Steinlen designed posters for relief groups to alleviate war-stricken nations.

About the exhibition

Highlights of the exhibition include several of his cover illustrations for literary and humorous journals Gil Blas ilustré and Le rire, a collector’s edition color lithograph Bal de barrière which was inspired by a scene from the novel Germinie Lacerteux by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, and his monumental posters to raise awareness and support for the soldiers and civilians affected by World War I in Save Serbia, Our Ally and En Belgique, les Belges ont faim.   

STEINLEN: Humanity, presented in collaboration with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is concurrent with the exhibition STEINLEN: Cats, on view at the VMFA from November 18 to March 4. STEINLEN: Cats focuses on the artist’s fascination with cats, and presents his exploration of the subject through various artistic styles and media (visit Both exhibitions were produced collaboratively and involved students from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University.  

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, and Sofia Nicolet, ’19, art history major, and the 2017 Harnett Summer Research Fellow, University Museums. The exhibition and programs are made possible in part with funds from the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund.


Sunday, December 3, 2017
Progressive Gallery Talk, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.  and
Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond Museums, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m., Gallery talk, VMFA
Introduction by Dr. Mitchell Merling, Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, VMFA
Presentation by Taylor Dean, VMFA Steinlen Project Intern (VCU, M.A., ‘18)
Meet at the Visitor Services Desk, VMFA
3:30 p.m., Gallery talk, Harnett Museum of Art
Introduction by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University of Richmond Museums
Presentation by Sofia Nicolet, 2017 Harnett Summer Research Fellow (UR, B.A. ’19)
Refreshments accompanied with music from the period will follow
Free, no reservations required for either program

Sunday, February 4, 2018, 2 to 3 p.m.
Gallery tour given in French, Harnett Museum of Art, Modlin Center for the Arts
L’exposition des estampes de Steinlen (The Exhibition of Steinlen Prints)
Talk presented by students currently enrolled in French upper-level courses at the University, and coordinated by Lidia Radi, Associate Professor of French and Italian, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Richmond

Steinlen: Humanity

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