Treatment of Jules Chéret Poster

Conservation and Collections Management

French artist Jules Chéret (1836–1932) was considered by many to be the most successful poster designer of his day. An innovator of graphic design, he created advertising posters for many of the theaters in Paris during the Belle Époque. His 1893 poster, Folies-Bergère, La Loïe Fuller, depicts the American dancer Loïe Fuller in her signature movement, spinning on stage while multi-colored footlights shine on her swirling robes.

The poster has been in the MFA collection since 1954, but was in very poor condition. It had been mounted onto a linen backing, but the finely woven linen, adhered to the verso of the poster sometime in the early twentieth century, was failing. It had begun to delaminate and was causing distortions in the paper. Many pieces of the poster had fallen off and creases had turned to tears. In fact, it was stored framed, a precaution deemed necessary because of its fragility.

Chéret poster framed while in storage
The poster in its frame before treatment. It was discolored and had distracting distortions throughout.
Detail of damage in Chéret poster
Detail showing a range of damage including wrinkles, lifting sections of paper, and staining.

In order to clean and repair the poster, the failing linen backing had to be removed. The cloth was peeled off in strips, revealing the extent of old damages. Small temporary repairs, the white strips visible below at the near edge, were applied to stabilize the most fragile areas and prevent further tears during the course of treatment.

Removal of linen backing from Chéret poster
The poster with most of the linen backing removed and only the last section on the right still adhered to the verso.

Once the lining was removed, the poster could be treated aqueously. The paper, all the ink colors, and the inscriptions were first tested for sensitivity to water. The poster was then sprayed with a fine mist of water before being immersed in a bath.

Mist of water sprayed onto Chéret poster
Water is sprayed on the poster until it is fully saturated.
Immersion of Chéret poster in water bath
Immersion in a water bath flushes out discoloration and acidity.

Removing the wet poster from the bath was an extremely delicate process requiring the coordinated effort of many hands. The poster was supported with a rigid plastic screen so it would not flex or tear when lifted out of the water.

Watch Conservators Remove the Poster from the Water Bath

Removal of Chéret poster from water bath
The poster was immersed for about 45 minutes before it was carefully lifted out of the water bath.

Next, a paper similar in texture to the poster paper was used to make fills for the losses. The poster paper is brittle and discolored, typical for posters from this time period as they were not printed on high quality paper, but even though this led to countless losses along the edges and in the text, there are actually few losses within the central image itself.

Toning of fills for Chéret poster
The fill paper was toned to match the color of the poster by dipping it in acrylic paints.

Once dried, the toned paper was shaped to conform to the areas of loss and attached to the poster using wheat starch paste.

Details of Chéret poster before and after fills
Details of the top left corner before losses are filled (left) and after the toned paper is inserted (right).

Filling losses and repairing tears gave much needed stability to the large poster, but it was still too fragile to be displayed without a new lining. A sheet of Japanese paper, adhered with wheat starch paste to the back of the poster, was added to support the tears and reduce distortions.

Back of Chéret poster brushed with wheat starch paste
A thin layer of wheat starch paste is applied to the verso of the poster.
Application of new lining on Chéret poster
A sheet of Japanese paper is lowered onto the poster and smoothed out to ensure contact.
Conservators inspect new lining on Chéret poster
The lifted corner reveals a lining paper that provides strong support, but is thin enough that light can pass through.

Watch Conservators Remove a Layer of Protective Facing after Lining

The newly lined and still slightly damp poster was then secured along the lining edges to a rigid support and allowed to dry over a period of several weeks. This method holds the object in plane as it dries, reducing wrinkles and distortions. During this time, losses are inpainted on the fill paper using watercolor paints.

Inpainting of fills on Chéret poster
The inpainting of fills makes the losses less distracting to the viewer.
Chéret poster on view in gallery
The poster on display, alongside other works depicting Loïe Fuller.