The four thousand or so works in Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s print oeuvre made use of all the mechanical and photomechanical reproduction techniques available to him at the time. His compositions were almost all intended for journals, song sheets and newspaper covers. Alongside his illustrative work, which was his main source of income, he also produced his own work for the print market. These works were printed in short runs on better paper with more careful inking.
The thirty-two prints of Trottin sous la pluie are an example of the latter. This trial proof belonged to the great print collector Alfred II Beurdeley. It dates from 1898, the year Steinlen produced his very first etchings, doubtless on the advice of Eugène Delâtre, a famous printer who did much to promote the technique. Steinlen produced 150 such engravings experimenting with copper and zinc, drypoint and etching, soft varnish and aquatint. He also used colour, as was becoming fashionable in the 1890s, much to the disgust of purists who preferred the tradition of printing in gradations of black.
Steinlen spoke of how after first arriving in Paris, he was charmed by ‘the world of the streets’, sketching ‘workers and delivery girls, washerwomen and paupers’. This work depicts a girl working for a milliner or seamstress delivering an order. The artist excels at capturing the movement of the typically Parisian figure, struggling along with her heavy parcel, buffeted by the wind and driving rain. For an early experiment in etching, it is a dazzling virtuoso display, particularly in the discreet bustle in the background: a thronging crowd, almost entirely hidden by the fog and drizzle, passes in front of a shop window that casts yellow glints on the flooded tarmac.
Philippe Kaenel, in collaboration with Catherine Lepdor, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, l’œil de la rue, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Ixelles, Musée communal d’Ixelles, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2008.
Ernest de Crauzat, L’œuvre gravé et lithographié de Steinlen. Catalogue descriptif et analytique suivi d’un essai de bibliographie et d’iconographie de son œuvre illustré, Société de Propagation des Livres d’Art, Paris, 1913: n. 16.