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La Belle Époque of Toulouse-Lautrec


Le Chat Noir. By Théophile Steinlen – Van Gogh Museum, Public Domain

By Barbara Basbanes Richter

The mantra for major exhibitions of 2016 seems to be, “go big or go home:” there’s Boston’s Beyond Words multi-venue extravaganza, the Getty’s impressive Alchemy of Color installation, and in 2017, look to the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., which will showcase nearly one-hundred drawings, posters, paintings, and prints spanning the career of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque is the first solo staging in the United States of Lautrec’s art in eighty years. The exhibition made its debut in June at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), whose curators collaborated with their counterparts at the Phillips to celebrate Lautrec’s innovative work in the field of printmaking and his unique look at Paris’s artistic community at the dawn of the 20th century. The show moves to D.C. in February, where it will be on view until April 2017. The Phillips and the MMFA have four Lautrec works on paper in each of their collections; a private, unnamed collector is loaning the lion’s share of the exhibition material.

Aristocrats, actors, dancers, and prostitutes were regular subjects for Lautrec, and his theatrical, subversive work is instantly recognizable. Commissioned projects allowed the artist to actually make a living at his chosen profession, unlike many of his contemporaries. Plenty of us can probably recall a Lautrec print or two tacked onto a college dorm room wall, and Parisians in the 1890s snapped up his creations, too.

Yale University Press published the accompanying catalog, Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle-Époque. Edited by senior collections curator at the MMFA, Hilliard T. Goldfarb, the exhibition companion includes a chronology of Lautrec’s vibrant and decadent life as well as in-depth analysis of the material on display.

In addition to the artist’s most recognizable works like the “Divan Japonais” (1893) advertisement and the iconic “Moulin Rouge” (1891) poster, the show includes rare working lithographic proofs like an olive green brush and spatter trial proof lithograph for a poster mocking German corruption, the “Babylone d’Allemagne” (1894).

Lautrec’s work heralded the arrival of a chaotic, modern age, and the man is himself considered one of Paris’s great fin de siècle personalities who chronicled the dirt, grime, and joy of everyday life in the City of Lights.

More information about the upcoming exhibition may be found here.

Browse related collectible books:

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Books & Lithographs

Belle-Époque works

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