Monday, August 4, 2014

The risqué world of Toulouse-Lautrec: prints and posters

Belle époque Paris knew few more colorful characters than the multifaceted Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). The Museum of Modern Art is currently showcasing more than 100 of his prints and posters, going well beyond the beaten track. The exhibition explores five themes reflecting Lautrec’s Paris: its often risqué café-chantants and ballrooms (especially the legendary Moulin Rouge); the actresses, singers, and dancers who inspired him (in particular cancan dancer Jane Avril [left], his close friend); the prostitutes with whom he felt at home (humanized in moments of rest in the Elles portfolio of lithographs); and illustrations for theater productions, musical scores, and literary magazines. Below are some highlights. (And do have a look at our current T-L offerings, which include a children's biography and an illustrated biography from the British Museum: "Along with Toulouse-Lautrec's iconic posters for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian establishments, the 43 reproductions  include rarely seen and unusually intimate drawings and sketches from the artist's Elles series of women in their private quarters."
La Troupe de Mademoiselle Églantine, 1896. At far left, the artist's muse, Jane Avril, dances to the beat of a different drum.
Another idiosyncratic Montmartre denizen whom T-L adored and painted often was Cha-U-Kao. A nude dancer, acrobat, and clown, she pretended to be Japanese—even sporting a topknot. This 1897 depiction is called La Clownesse au Moulin Rouge. (That nightclub must have been a boatload of fun!) At left, T-L embodies and parodies the rage for all things Japanese that was going on at the time. His distinctive signature emulates the circular seals of Japanese artists.
Above, Femme au tub (Woman at the Tub), a lithograph from the portfolio Elles, 1896. Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1946. Below, the title page of Elles and the cover for the portfolio L'Estampe originale, no. 1. 1893.
Read more Daily Glean background on Jane Avril here.  My sampling of the paintings and sculptures at the Barnes Museum has loads of French art—including Toulouse-Lautrec's remarkably contemporary looking "Rosa." And finally, don't miss our book collections reproducing the artistic wonders of the Musée d'Orsay!


  1. Very appropriate post considering that Wiki says this date in 1693 is "the night they invented Champagne"!
    I feel like singing along with Gigi, thanks to those lithe dancers!