Steinlen was born in Lausanne on 10 November 1859. He went to Paris at the age of 19 to live and devote himself to drawing professionally. Around 1880, he settled in Montmartre, the centre of the art community. He became one of the regular contributors to the journal Le Chat Noir, and soon began to draw for most of the humourist’s journals. Along with Le Chat Noir, he worked on Gil-Blas, Mirliton, Chambard, Rire, and L’Assiette au beurre. In 1911 he became one of 13 founding journalists of Les Humouristes with Forain, Willette, Leandre, J. Veber, etc., whose duration was unfortunately short-lived.
While Steinlen illustrated for the journals, he also completed some magnificent posters and other assorted pictures. He held exhibitions of his work at the Salon des Indépendants. Among these exhibitions were scenes of the countryside, nudes, portraits, and flowers, a very different and more personal side of the artist whom we know as a political and social satirist and illustrator.
Steinlen loved cats. At the beginning of his career, he drew them, painted them, and sculpted them. He tried to translate every imaginable subtlety of their poses and movements. This period of sculpture is little known, but the Museum of Berlin has conserved a piece called An Angora in Bronze.
He is a well known painter of the street, especially the suburbs and the popular quarters of Montmartre. His drawings are strong and his colours are unique. Steinlen regularly participated in the Salon des Humouristes and during the war (1914-1918), he devoted himself to portraying the misfortunes and hardships of the invasions of Belgium and Serbia. These works are some of the most poignant and inspiring depictions of the war.