Auvers-Sur-Oise, France — It was his black cat that made him famous the world over. A rather angry-looking black cat but one that you can’t take your eyes from. It appears on a late 19th century poster announcing the upcoming tour of the Chat Noir (The Black Cat) the Chat Noir being a mythical cabaret in Montmartre owned and operated by Rodolphe Salis and frequented by the great artists and writers of the day. The cabaret is long gone, the albeit fanciful Rodolphe Salis is not a household name but the black cat on that poster remains one of the great symbols of Paris to this day. Reproductions of the poster still sell abundantly and that angry-looking yet endearing black cat decorates countless derivative products in countless homes all over the world.
The poster was created by one of the great artists of the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen who was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1859 and naturalized French in 1901. He frequented Montmartre and the artistic scene on the butte or hill during one of its most prolific periods. At the Chat Noir he would frequent Aristide Bruant, Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Félix Vallotton and Paul Verlaine, whose poetry was set to the music of and played by Claude Debussy in the cabaret.
The Chateau of Auvers, located in the scenic and artistic town of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris, is hosting an exhibition devoted to the artist entitled The Secret Gardens of Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, from Montmartre to the Oise Valley. He had a predilection for painting cats much in vogue at the time — a precursor given the success of cats on the Internet— and would illustrate numerous works about them. He was also very attached to cats and would welcome them, care for them and feed them in his Montmartre studio known as Cat’s Cottage. But he created, too, an enormous body of work in myriad mediums including paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculpture. While he slinked through the narrow streets and alley ways of Montmartre much like the cats that he depicted, he would also head to the Oise Valley to his home in Jouy-le-Moutier, which is also located in the Oise River Valley.
The show brings together dozens of his works and has benefited from exceptional loans from private collections and the museum of Daubigny d’Auvers-sur-Oise. Visitors can discover his sublime landscapes and portrait and still life paintings. There is an outstanding pastel of a vase filled with a bouquet of anemones. Landscapes include a rare view from Lake Geneva onto the farmlands beyond and works from his time in Norway. Poignant are his drawings of the workers in Montmartre like the laundresses and the road workers. And on a darker note are his drawings from the World War I front in the trenches. The show also takes a look at those that peopled his inner circle like Aristide Bruant, Georges Clemenceau and Anatole France. Steinlen would die in his Parisian studio in 1923, presumedly surrounded by his beloved cats.
The Chateau of Auvers is a unique place surrounded by terraced gardens offering various perspectives on the Oise River Valley and worthy of a visit in and of itself. Many are the painters that would be inspired by the castle and the town where it sits including Charles François Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne and one Vincent van Gogh who is buried there. There is also a nymphaeum on the property, a rare example of the grottos and cooling rooms decorated with sea shells of which only about a dozen can still be seen in France because of the extreme fragility of their decor. The Steinlen exhibition is on until September 18th.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
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