2008.487.230 HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
La Chaîne Simpson, 1896
Color Lithograph, 9.25 x 12.25 in
Author: Shelby Thomas
Nineteenth-century French painter and poster artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is best known for his use of lithographs to advertise famous performers and brands. Toulouse-Lautrec was able to establish himself as the premier poster artist of Paris, and he elevated advertising lithographs to the realm of high art. La Chaîne Simpson is a famous example of how he used this approach to advertise the Simpson Lever Chain, a popular bicycle company, to a large audience of both men and women. This poster is a colorful representation of a bicycle race in France, which Toulouse-Lautrec had attended in order to receive inspiration to create this advertisement. The artist uses a combination of colors and a bold graphic style to intensify the advertising message and to catch the attention of potential buyers of the products.
Toulouse-Lautrec also became known for his depictions of women in his works of art. In La Chaîne Simpson, three cyclists ride in the foreground. Viewers at the time could identify one of them as a woman by the artist’s use of red pigment on her lips. Further, she would have been recognized as Hélène Dutrieu, a professional track cyclist for the Simpson Lever Chain team. Cycling became wildly popular in the late nineteenth century when bicycles achieved their mass appeal. Women cyclists were often used on billboards in order to attract men and women to buy bicycles; however, women were still a minority when it came to cycling, as it was seen as a manly activity. To women, however, cycling was seen not solely as an activity for recreation and exercise but also as a mode of transportation. Cycling was a way in which a woman gained the freedom to leave her home unattended and to be able to decide where she wants to go.
La Chaîne Simpson is an advertisement that was intended for both men and women, but by including a woman in the poster, it sent a message to women that they have the power to be cyclists, despite the stereotype that identified cycling as an activity for men. The techniques that Toulouse-Lautrec uses, including creating a sense of movement, helps to sell the product and convince other cyclists that they can be just as fast and powerful as the cyclists in the poster.