Les Affiches lumineuses. Dessin pour Les Rassemblements (Brightly Lit Posters. Drawing for Les Rassemblements), 1895/1902-1903
In the autumn of 1895, Félix Vallotton produced a series of thirty drawings for Badauderies parisiennes. Les Rassemblements. Physiologies de la rue (A Study of Strolls through Paris: Crowds. Street Physiologies), printed in 1896 in a short run of 220 copies for members of the Société des bibliophiles indépendants. The series was commissioned by the publisher, Octave Uzanne, who took an unusual approach: rather than asking Vallotton to illustrate a text, he asked fifteen writers for La Revue blanche to comment on his pictures. The contributors included some of the leading literary lights of the day, including Jules Renard and Félix Fénéon.
This work is in the same vein as Vallotton’s Nabi woodcuts, with simplified forms nestled within each other, tiered perspectives inspired by Japanese prints, and framing focusing tightly on the action. The series offers a sweeping panorama of the crowds that gathered in Paris’s streets and parks, with a social typology including strollers, fairground workers, drunkards, and demonstrators. Vallotton excelled in capturing events that drew crowds, day or night, from the delights of street singers, military parades, and balloon flights to dramatic arrests, fires, and drownings. The cumulative effect is more than the sum of its individual parts: the series describes the latent power of the populace and the rise of social protest in the Third Republic, sometimes with sharp humour.
This drawing, watercoloured by Vallotton just before he sold it, features a set of advertising posters. A nighttime crowd presses thickly in front of a display window. Among them are characters found on any Paris boulevard: at the back are two little pastry-cooks, a hoodlum with his hands in his pockets, two ladies of the night, and a groom with a smart cap. In front of them are bourgeois gentlemen in top hats. They are thronged together to admire the magic show of brightly lit posters. As Romain Coolus wrote in the text accompanying this work, ‘For all these people […] the brightly lit posters are a free magic lantern show’.
Richard S. Field, ‘Extérieurs et intérieurs: l’œuvre gravé de Vallotton,’ in Sasha M. Newman (ed.), Félix Vallotton, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Flammarion, 1992: 43-91.