1853 - 1902
Alfred Choubrac (Paris, 30 December 1853 – Paris, 25 July 1902) was a French painter, illustrator, draughtsman, poster artist and costume designer. Together with Jules Chéret he is considered to be one of the pioneers of the modern coloured and illustrated poster of the Belle Époque in France, in particular in Paris.
Alfred Choubrac was born in Montmartre (Paris). With his elder brother Léon Choubrac, Alfred was trained as a classical artist with the painters Charles Doërr and Isidore Pils at the École des Beaux Arts. The Choubrac brothers came very soon to the poster, practicing since 1875 the modern treatment of colors and typography, associated with images thanks to chromolithography.
In the early 1870s, the Choubrac brothers and Jules Chéret (known as “the father of the modern poster”) reduced the cost of colour lithography introducing technical advances. Additionally, in 1881 restrictions on bill-posting (affichage) were lifted and eased state control of the media in France. In 1884, the Paris city council started to rent out surfaces belonging to the municipality, paving the way for a rapid increase in the production and distribution of advertising posters. Posters with clear colours and dashing images appeared all over town during the vibrant spirit of the Belle Époque.
They worked mainly with the printing press F. Appel. Later, Léon and Alfred created the Ateliers Choubrac, one time hosted by the printing press G. Massias, 17 passage Daudin, one of the first graphic design agencies in Paris, operating their prints on a lithographic press. Around 1898, the name of the Atelier was associated with the name of Imprimerie Bourgerie & Cie, 83 rue du Faubourg, St Denis in Paris. Although his brother Leon died young (1847-1885), Alfred went on to produce an impressive number of posters for Parisian entertainers, theatres, businesses and various commercial products.
Alfred Choubrac specialized in posters for shows in the Parisian night-life scene of the Belle Époque, for places such as the Théâtre des Variétés, Théâtre du Châtelet, Folies Bergère, Opéra comique, Moulin rouge, Casino de Paris, the Eldorado, the Circus Fernando.With Chéret and Toulouse-Lautrec, amongst others, Choubrac was among the most important poster artist of his time. His most famous poster is that of Au Joyeux Moulin Rouge, based on the popular Parisian nightclub Moulin Rouge.
The 1880s and 1890s were an intermediary period in the development of the poster in which its primary political function shifted to a primarily promotional one as advertising in the emerging consumer economy, often, if not primarily, through the commoditisation of female sexuality. In April 1891, under orders from the Minister of the Interior, the prefect of Paris, Henri-Auguste Lozé, seized and destroyed hundreds of posters considered to a violation of public decency. Many artists and their printers were charged. Several of Choubrac’s posters were prohibited and he was brought to court along with the printers.
One of the censored posters advertised the performance of the dancer Ilka de Mynn at the Folies Bergère, who was depicted in a maillot (body stocking), which according to the court that charged Choubrac was a cause for concern because the model appeared to be nude.Another poster was an advertisement for the French magazine Fin de Siècle, which showed a scarcely dressed female dancer. In an interview with La Presse, Choubrac said he was astonished by the upheaval, claiming that “nudity is exposed everywhere and in much more provocative ways; and I frankly confess that I do not see where the evil was, I sought to make a work of art and nothing more.
In later life he became also known for his designs of stage costumes for the theatre. Choubrac illustrated several works by Emile Zola. He carried out a number of bookstore posters to promote popular works. He also produced commercial posters for brands such as the Muscovite Digestive, Humber Cycles, Beeston Tire, Naigeon Gold Water, Unbreakable Baleinine Corsets, Mokatine, Decauville Cycles, Burgeatine Liqueur, and the Hippodrome of Saint-Ponchon, among others.
As an illustrator, he sometimes collaborated with his brother Léon in Gil Blas or the satirical weekly Le Courrier français, among others. The first poster exhibition in France occurred in 1884 in the Passage Vivienne in Paris and included American as well as French posters with specific representation of the work of Cheret and the two Choubrac brothers. The New York Grolier Club in November 1890 organised an exhibition of prints of the “masters in the newest art”, that of bill posting, including Choubrac, Chéret, Willette and Eugène Grasset.
The poster collector Ernest Maindron, who wrote the first essay about the illustrated poster in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1884, and later published the first book on the subject (Les Affiches Illustrees) in 1886, mentioned the Choubrac brothers and Chéret among the pioneers of the illustrated poster. Maindron praised Choubrac’s bold line, sense of composition and highly decorative skills.
Alfred Choubrac died on 25 July 1902 from a cold gone bad.