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The artwork of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), who seized the exuberant fin de siecle atmosphere of the Belle Epoque Paris, is currently on view in “The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters” at The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition — featuring over 100 examples of Toulouse-Lautrec’s avant-garde works — is drawn almost exclusively from MoMA’s permanent collection of posters, lithographs, printed ephemera and illustrated books.
Toulouse-Lautrec documents the cult of the celebrity and the rise of popular entertainment in his prints, posters and lithographs for magazines and journals. The exhibition is organized into five subjects: Parisian nightlife, celebrities, artists of the avant-garde, prostitutes and the daily pleasures of the upper class. The famous Moulin Rouge takes center stage in the section devoted to the rise of nightlife culture in France. Cafe concerts and dance halls come alive in Toulouse-Lautrec’s distinct style characterized by vibrant color and swift brushstrokes. His energetic approach arrests the star power of the famous actresses, singers, dancers and performers filling these venues — including dancer Loie Fuller and stage actress Jane Avril.
Toulouse-Lautrec was captivated not only by the starlets, but also by the prostitutes who filled the streets of Paris as crowds let out of cafe and theater entertainment. In his Elles portfolio, he captured the kindness of call girls as he depicted prostitutes during nonworking hours. Toulouse-Lautrec’s delicate renderings make his female subjects look gentile despite taking residency in low-class brothels.
The section devoted to his creative circle highlights Toulouse-Lautrec’s position as an avant-garde master of his day. He was a creative force in the Parisian artistic milieu as he designed sheet music for famous musicians, playbills for theater productions and satirical illustrations for magazines and intellectual reviews. Toulouse-Lautrec’s oeuvre spanned the reaches of low- and high-brow entertainment, documenting a spectacular era dominated by the rise of popular media.
See The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters through March 2015 at MoMA