Celebrities from Lithography to Photography

Late 19th century Paris saw the convergence of many phenomena attributed with modernization – the rise of nightlife culture in Montmarte, lithography used to advertise this artistically, the new face of urbanism from large-scale renovations to Paris known as Haussmannization, and of course the art world’s response to these rapid changes. The rise of the lithograph as an art form was not wholly novel in the world’s history of art, but the way it was used and the particular techniques artists used is strongly attributed to the growth of modernity. What I became interested in as I looked further into the work of Toulouse-Lautrec was his stylistic choices. In response to the banality of urban life, Montmarte and its nightlife served as an escapism and other lithograph producers commissioned to advertise cafe-concerts and performers, such as Jules Chéret and Pierre Bonnard, used fantastical imagery to mirror the escapism. However, Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithography often depicted the very banality of urbanism that other artists rejected. This stylistic choice is ultimately how his lithographs became canonized into the history of art, as opposed to hitoulouse-loutrec-henri-de-divin-japonaiss contemporaries.

Yvette Guilbert, a performer, was a favorite of Lautrec’s and he made two personal portfolios of her in the course of his career. She complained about how he always depicted her with a long neck and made her so ugly – and she’s not wrong. Consider her depiction on the stage in Divan Japonais, in which her neck extends so far that her head is cut off from the print altogether. And Jane Avril in the foreground, while not depicted as ugly as Guilbert was, would also be represented on prints frowning – very opposed to Lautrec’s lithographic contemporaries.

The depiction of people famous or important to culture is not new in the history of art. Think of all the commissioned portraits that we have throughout our world’s museum collections. So it is no surprise that with the rise of lithography came the representation of famous celebrities. Lithography, of course, was not limited to use for art. Most lithography was used for much more practical purposes – creating multiples of musical composition sheets, for mixed-press methods in book publishing. However, with the popularization of a media form often follows the application of this for documenting our celebrities. The rise of daguerreotypes and photography also saw this – in fact, the rise of mass media can be associated with a growth of celebrity culture.

Research Question: Was the rise of lithography with its affordance of multiples a precursor to mass media celebrity culture?

Methodology: Put the lithograph producers of Montmarte into a dialogic network of celebrity representation beside a discussion of the nightlife of Montmarte. Put this into perspective of the history of photography and the representation of celebrities in that medium. And finally, put this into context of the rise of mass media celebrity photo publications.

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