Edgar Degas was the only 19th century French painter to have direct family ties with America, his mother, the former Marie-Celestine Musson, was born in New Orleans. Edgar was the oldest of five children; they were raised in the comfort of a well-to-do family. Young Degas had the usual scholastic training but he was exposed to art early by his father, who often took him to museums, etc. When he graduated from the Lycee Louis le Grand in 1852, winning first prize in drawing, he already had a deep interest in art.
Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, France, on February 25, 1841, the sixth of Leonard Renoir and Marguerite Merlet’s seven children. His father was a tailor and his mother was a dressmaker. His family moved to Paris in 1844. Showing a remarkable talent for drawing, Renoir became an apprentice in a porcelain factory where he painted designs on fine china. Later, after the factory had closed, he worked for his older brother, decorating fans, blinds and signs. Throughout these early years Renoir made frequent visits to the Louvre where he studied and developed a deep respect for the art of 18th Century French Rococo Masters.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec became one of France’s most prominent Post-Impressionist painters and capturing the night life of part of the city, was described as “the soul of Montmartre.” He also did a number of illustrations for the magazine Le Rire during the 1890s’s.
Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi, France, in the mid-Pyrenees region. He was the first child of a Count and Countess whose aristocratic lineage dated back over a thousand years but whose fortune had collapsed before he was born. At birth, they gave him the full name of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa.
A painter, illustrator and muralist whose name is prominently associated with Art Nouveau*, Alphonse Mucha created work with strong composition and color and sensuous curves derived from nature. Using this style, he began earning widespread attention in the 1890s for his illustration work including posters of actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Although his name is linked to Art Nouveau, a style meaning ‘new art’ in French, he avoided that discussion by saying he was merely painting in a way that was unique and natural to him.
Les Maîtres de l’Affiche (The Masters of the Poster) refers to one of the most influential art publications in history. The 256 color plates that make up this suite represent a wide-ranging selection of outstanding original prints from the turn of the twentieth century, when this popular art form first reached its peak.
By the 1890’s the streets of French cities were enlivened by large, colorful posters. The poster had not only caught the fancy of the public, but its best examples were already being regarded as true works of art (specifically, as fine prints) to be exhibited, reviewed in journals, collected and reproduced in a more manageable form.