Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates La Belle Époque

Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892.Photo by Fotini Stephen.

Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

(TORONTO, ON) – The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Strikes Again. I am more versed in music than sketching, lithographs, and oil paintings. The lights of Billy Holiday, Nat King Cole, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Chet Baker burned very bright and intensely and bad habits took them down by cutting short their artistic brilliance.

The same could be said about Henri de Toulouse –Lautrec (1864-1901), the great French 19th century master who revolutionized the art of print making. Felled by a stroke at the age of 37, no doubt contributed to by syphilis and alcoholism, the world lost a great artist.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born of aristocratic first cousin parents who inherited a genetic disorder which affected the growth of his legs. His condition was was complicated by falls in his teens, which left him more or less crippled.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with The Phillips Collection in Washington mounted this impressive showing of close to 100 Lautrec posters from 1891-1900. If you have seen any Warhol exhibits in your travels you’ll quickly note a big similarity between the two. Both did extensive work for advertising campaigns and magazine covers.

Aside from the purely commercial work done by Lautrec, he attempted to capture the heart of Parisian nightlife during the Belle Époque, frequenting the Parisian Bohemian hotspots such as the Chat Noir, the Mirlition, and the Moulin Rouge.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was very closely associated with the Bohemian lifestyle of the Parisian Montmartre neighbourhood, including the Black Cat Cabaret. This 1896 poster by Théophile Steinlen advertising Le Chat Noir's troupe of touring dancers.Photo by Fotini Stephen.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was very closely associated with the Bohemian lifestyle of the Parisian Montmartre neighbourhood, including the Black Cat Cabaret. This 1896 poster by Théophile Steinlen advertising Le Chat Noir’s troupe of touring dancers.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

My exposure to Lautrec seemed to consist of a few of his works thrown into an Impressionism exhibit, but the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts gives us a rare intensive look at his work. The more you observe, the more your opinion will shift to the man being great and not simply quirky.

You’ll see his lithographs of the stars of Montmartre, Jane Avril, May Belfort, Aristide Bruant, Yvette Guilbert, and La Goulue. And you will leave the museum realizing his unique style deserves to be recognized by more than a lithograph or two stuck in some impressionism exhibit.

Lautrec was indeed a bright star and gets the attention he deserves at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Not to overshadow Lautrec, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is unveiling Lintérieur de chez Bruant : le Mirliton to the general public for the first time. The oil painting by Louis Anquetin is a major rediscovery with vibrant brushstrokes and brilliant colours conjuring up the dynamic culture of Montmartre in its heyday.

(Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates The Belle Époque, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, finished showing on 30 October 2016)

L'interieur de Chez Bruant, Louis Anquetin, 1886-87.Photo by Fotini Stephen.

L’interieur de Chez Bruant, Louis Anquetin, 1886-87.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC.

Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden.

Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, “Have Story, Will Write.”

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