1859 – 1923
A native of Lausanne, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen began his artistic career as a designer of printed fabrics. In 1881, he moved to Paris, settling in Montmartre, and began to frequent the literary cabaret known as Le Chat Noir, founded by a fellow Swiss expatriate Louis Rodolphe Salis. The artists of Le Chat Noir established something of a private club or society of aesthetes. Steinlen was soon contributing illustrations to the associated journal Le Chat Noir, and this success led him to become one of the foremost illustrators in Paris at the turn of the century.
At times using the pseudonym Jean Caillou, Steinlen submitted drawings to other satirical publications, including Le Mirliton and, from 1891 onwards, Gil Blas, for whom he made over 400 drawings. It was the success of his work for Gil Blas that established Steinlen’s reputation outside France. Among the more than 30 magazines to which he also contributed were Le Croquis, La Revue Illustree, and Le Canard Sauvage. Steinlen depicted all manner of Parisian society in his drawings and illustrations, with a particular emphasis on the life of the working class.
He enjoyed the first of many successful exhibitions of paintings and drawings in 1894, and, in 1909, gained the distinction of a room devoted solely to his work at the Salon d’Automne. As a draughtsman, Steinlen employed a wide variety of media, including black, blue, and colored chalks, ink, pencil, watercolor, and charcoal. His fondness for animals, and, in particular, cats, was noted even as early as his school days when he drew sketches of cats in the margins of his notebooks.
Cats seem to have appealed to Steinlen for their charm, movement, and character, as well as for their symbolic properties. His house on the rue Caulaincourt in Paris was, according to contemporary accounts, a meeting place for all the cats of the quarter. In his early years as an artist, he would sell drawings of cats in exchange for food, and, in later years, a cat would usually appear in most of his drawings, magazine illustrations, lithographs, and posters.