Adrien Barrère was a prolific poster artist in late Belle Époque Paris, noted for having illustrated over 200 cinema posters for Pathé in the earliest decades of the 20th Century. His style was a bit more cartoonish than his more famous contemporaries like Toulouse-Lautrec and Chéret, due to his training as a caricaturist.
And that respected artist made some marvelously ghastly posters for that notoriously gory and debauched theatre, the Grand Guignol.
A huge influence on horror cinema, the Grand Guignol (roughly “large puppet show”) specialized in garish melodramas that typically climaxed in graphic violence. In his introduction to Theatre of Fear and Horror, U.C. Berkeley Drama professor and author Mel Gordon writes:
There is something embarrassing about the Grand Guignol. Like a renegade sect or invented religion from another century, it still touches upon our secret longings and fears. A product of fin-de-siecle France, the Grand Guignol managed to transgress theatrical conventions and outrage its public as it explored the back alleys of unfettered desire, aesthetic impropriety, and nascent psychological trends in criminology and the study of abnormal behavior. Its supporters called the Grand Guignol play the most Aristotelian of twentieth-century dramatic forms since it was passionately devoted to the purgation of fear and pity.
Audiences came to the Theatre of the Grand Guignol to be frightened, to be shocked, while simultaneously delighting in their fears (or in those of the people around them). The more terrifying a performance was—that is, the more it tapped into its spectators’ collective phobias—the greater its success.
Gordon’s book was originally published by Amok Press in 1988, but an expanded edition is being released in a few weeks by Feral House, and will feature a section of color plates, play scripts, and the autobiography of one of the theatre’s company players, actress Paula Maxa, who may be the single most murdered performer in the history of theatre (“I had been shot, burned, poisoned, flogged in the nude, bitten by snakes, dismembered on a butcher’s table, strangled, left bleeding to death—all at the whim of the playwrights”).
The gallery of Barrère prints below was graciously provided by the publisher. Clicking spawns an enlargement.
The Puppets of Vice, 1929
The Embrace, 1925
The Three Masques, 1922
The Mark of the Beast, 1916
The System of Dr. Goudron and Prof. Plume, 1909
The Wizard, 1920
The Laboratory of Hallucinations, 1916
God is With Us, 1928
The Kiss of Blood, 1929