Sunday, August 28, 2016

Toulouse-Lautrec Posters

Today I'm at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has a fine permanent 
collection, but also brings many special traveling shows to the city.
Right now there are two splendid special exhibitions, one of them "The Posters of
Toulouse-Lautrec" and the other on "Pompei and Its Art."

The posters were created at the end of the 19th century as advertisements for
entertainment in Paris.  They were pasted on the columns / kiosks found all along
the streets of Paris.  But Toulouse-Lautrec's were special.  The above poster 
was his first, created in 1891 using lithography and made of three pieces
of paper and standing more than 6 feet high.  This had never been seen before.
It is a lithograph, created on large pieces of limestone.  People would see it for
only a few seconds as they walked by, so you wanted to grab their attention and
give them the message immediately, no fine print.

In this case, it is taking place at the Moulin Rouge, the hottest night club in Paris;
it stars "La Goulue," the most famous can-can dancer of the day; and there are
special performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The artist's cousin is the
man silhouetted at the front, and we are right in the midst of the audience,
not seated apart and away.

Another very popular singer and entertainer in night clubs was Aristide
Bruant.  He was flamboyant and dressed always in a large black cape
and red scarf.  He hired Toulouse-Lautrec to make posters for him.
He performed at the "Ambassadeurs," a popular club, and then
when finances permitted, he opened his own cabaret.

M. Bruant liked to stride along the Champs Elysees or other
streets in Paris, with his cape and scarf flowing, so that people
would recognize him and hopefully come to see him in his club.

When "La Goulue" retired and moved away, she was replaced by a pretty and
shy young woman who went by the name of "Jane Avril," who was the
antithesis of the boisterous and flamboyant Goulue.  But "Jane Avril"
soon became an even more popular star and dancer, and Tourlouse-Lautrec
portrayed her several times in posters.   1893

Toulouse-Lautrec was much influenced by Japanese woodblock prints
which were being sold in Paris.  Notice how we are sitting immediately
beside the orchestra pit, right behind the bass player.  The flat colors of
the dress are made with greasy crayons on the stone, the speckled
appearance of the bass player and his arm were created by using a
toothbrush and toothpick and spraying the pigment on the stone.
TL experimented with many new and unusual techniques.

Jane Avril performed in the clubs of Paris for more than 20 years.  At the
age of 42 she retired and married a German artist, and they moved to a Paris
suburb.  But he was soon unfaithful, spent all her money, and then left her.
Without any financial support following his death in 1926, Avril lived
 in near poverty on what little was left of her savings.

Jane Avril died in a seniors' home in 1943 at the age of 75. She was interred 
in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

The "Divan Japonais" was another popular club.  The artist again makes
contrasting use of large areas of solid yellow, black, and orange, contrasted
with the speckled grey of orchestra and stage.  Like Japanese prints or modern
selfies on a cell-phone, he cuts off parts of the background and people - he
wants to make us feel as if we are right in the action.

Toulouse-Lautrec influenced other artists; this poster was made by
Theophile Steinlen.

The "Chat Noir / Black Cat" was a popular club, where many singers
and dancers performed.  Aristide Bruant performed there at times.
In this case, Rodolphe Salis was the headliner.

Jane Avril worked with  three other female dancers (Cleopatra, the Gazelle, 
and Eglantyne) and they did a special act with the can-can dance. 
TL created this poster to be used for advertising in London,
where they went on tour and were highly successful.
 The diagonal line of the dancers leads us right into the action and
onto the stage.  Each of the dancers could be easily recognized by the
public: guess which dancer is "The Gazelle."
The artist would sign his works in a way similar to Japanese artists,
who use a chop or small ink stamp.  Henri used his initials "HTL" (Henri 
de Toulouse-Lautrec) inside a circle, which you can see at the bottom left.


One of the most influential women and art and literature patrons in Paris
was Misia Sert.  She was portrayed by most of the Impressionist artists at one 
time or another.  Here she graces the cover of a literary magazine, "La
Revue Blanche," which she helped found and supported.
This is the cover of the bi-monthly literary journal.

New books were also popularized with bold posters.  Here "Reine de Joie" by
Victor Joze has a racy image on the poster rather than on the bookcover.
But it was available "in every boookstore."


There are more than 50 posters in the exhibit and show Toulouse-Lautrec
as a very hard worker and creative artist.  He came from an
aristocratic family, where marriage to cousins was common.  He
inherited health problems, and after some accidents with falling in his youth,
his legs stopped growing.  His torso was normal sized, but his legs were
short and tiny, so he could not participate in riding or dancing or other
activities of the aristocracy.  So he became an habitue of the nightclubs
of Paris and lived in the clubs and recorded their life.  He became
friends with the dancers and entertainers and promoted their careers.

At the exhibit, recordings of songs in the nightclubs are played in
the background;  they are wonderful.  It is a great show.



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