Born in Lausanne, Switzerland on November 10, 1859, he moved permanently to Paris at age 23 and became a French citizen. Steinlen studied art at Lausanne and later became active as a textile designer in Mulhause. In 1882 he arrived in Paris where he worked as an illustrator for the journals Mirliton, Assiette au Beurre, Chat Noir, and Gil Blas, for which he produced over four hundred lithographs. In the early 1890s, Steinlen’s paintings of rural landscapes, flowers, and nudes were being shown at the Salon des Indépendants.
Besides illustrating advertisements for a variety of products, Steinlen was famous for his posters of cabaret and music hall performers. His later work for the journals, like that of Toulouse Lautrec, became increasingly satirical and critical of society. His permanent home, Montmartre and its environs was a favorite subject throughout Steinlen’s life and he often painted genre scenes of the working class, capturing day-to-day life in Paris with a simple, endearing style. He was very fond of animals, especially cats, and often included them in his posters. He never ceased to draw them in all their activities and moods. Cats figure prominently in some of his most famous works, such as his great poster Pure sterilized milk from the Vingeanne.
Steinlen’s works can be found at many important museums around the world including at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., United States.
Théophile Steinlen died in 1923 in Paris and was laid to rest in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.