Born in Paris to a poor but creative family of artisans, Chéret had a very limited education. At age thirteen, he began a three-year apprenticeship with a lithographer and then his interest in painting led him to take an art course at the École Nationale de Dessin. Like most other fledgling artists, Chéret studied the techniques of various artists, past and present, by visiting Paris museums.
From 1859 to 1866, he was trained in lithography in London, England, where he was strongly influenced by the British approach to poster design and printing. On returning to France, Chéret created vivid poster ads for the cabarets, music halls, and theaters such as the Eldorado, the Olympia, the Folies Bergère, Théâtre de l’Opéra, the Alcazar d’Été and the Moulin Rouge. He created posters and illustrations for the satirical weekly Le Courrier français.
His works were influenced by the scenes of frivolity depicted in the works of Rococo artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau. So much in demand was he, that he expanded his business to providing advertisements for the plays of touring troupes, municipal festivals, and then for beverages and liquors, perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Eventually he became a major advertising force, adding the railroad companies and a number of manufacturing businesses to his client list.