Gustave Dutailly, a French botanist and member of Parliament at the end of the 19th century, was a very committed and passionate man. Beyond his activities as a scientist and politician, he ardently collected a whole of close to 5,000 examples of what would later be called “ the Golden age of French poster art”, which he bequeathed to the Town of Chaumont.

The exhibition “L’affiche illustrée à la Belle Époque –  La collection Dutailly” stages the Chaumont collection of posters of the Belle Époque in an unprecedented perspective. This exhibition reveals the major treasures and clarifies the logic behind the collector’s intentions, by highlighting the singularities that make this collection unique in its genre.

The exhibition observes the particularities of this collection, which reflects the collector’s singularity by hypothesizing on the motivations of the latter. The question whether he considered posters and printed images as art works or as historic documents is asked, just like the modus operandi of  how he constituted this collection, the stylistic preferences as well as its preservation.

All these aspects provide a picture of the collection as an incursion into a period where the power of printed images was being explored and when posters started taking on an artistic form. This major period in art history is considered through the Dutailly collection by the art historian and specialist of printed images, Nicholas-Hhenri Zmelty.


Affichomania recounted by the Dutailly collection

“Affichomania” is a term that was popularized in the early 1890’s and designated a new form of collecting illustrated posters. Somewhere between his consideration of posters as arts works or historical documents, Dutailly’s  sort of affichomania is revealed by the nature of the collection.


A passion for Jules Chéret

Gustave Dutailly, like most of the affichomaniacs, had a special predilection for the work of Jules Chéret, unanimously considered as the “King of poster art”. As an extreme admirer of Chéret, Dutailly constituted the richest collection of Chéret posters.


The masters of poster art

Together with Jules Chéret, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Eugène Grasset, Léon-Adolphe Willette and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen are considered as masters of the practice among poster lovers. They are well represented in the collection and some of their most beautiful works are shown in this exhibition.


Beyond  trends and prejudice

Like all collectors, Dutailly had preferences that differed from those of his fellow collectors or specialised critics. Posters signed by Alfred  Choubrac, Pal and Alfred Guillaume open to the specificities of this collection: the aesthetics and qualities of posters as documents.


The collector’s treasures

The appeal of a collection is partly held true  by the rarity of the pieces it conceals. From this point view, Dutailly could boast about owning some of the treasures the most desired by the affichomaniacs, starting with some printed posters without the lettering. He also owned posters that were forbidden  for political reasons or that were considered too licentious, all exhibited at le Signe.


Anthology

The exhibition presents about fifteen posters among those that were the most appreciated by the affichomaniacs around the turn of the century, some of which are nowadays known only by specialists and collectors. Others, such as France-Champagne by Pierre Bonnard or Chocolat Menier by Firmin Bouisset are part of the collective unconsciousness.