More than 30 bold and subtle posters, prints, and paintings representative of the bohemian nightlife of late 19th-century Paris are presented in "Café and Cabaret: Toulouse-Lautrecs Paris" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(MFA). The French aristocrat Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), one of the most famous artists of the Post-Impressionist period, is known for his striking images of performers in the centers of Parisian entertainment in the 1880s and 1890s, specifically the café-concerts and cabaret nightclubs in the neighborhood of Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec spent most of his time in this lively section of the citywhere women danced the Cancan at places such as the Moulin Rougeand chronicled in his canvases and lithographs the extravagant nightlife of Parisian dance halls and nightclubs. "Café and Cabaret" will be on view from November 21, 2009, through August 8, 2010, in the Mary Stamas Gallery.
"Toulouse-Lautrec was one of the most original and creative artists of the late 19th-century, a master of the great age of color lithography," said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. "No artist captured the excitement of Parisian nightlife with more verve than Toulouse-Lautrec."
Despite his short life, Toulouse-Lautrec was enormously productive and succeeded in developing a style uniquely suited to the celebrity culture of the raffish district of Montmartre, where he and other privileged sophisticates went ―slumming‖ in the late 1800s. He had a genius for caricature that captured the signature features and body language of his subjects, who included his friends, the singers and dancers May Milton, Jane Avril, and La Goulue ("the glutton"). He accomplished this with the radical use of broad flat colors, strong silhouettes, and unusual points of view. Toulouse-Lautrec was heavily influenced by the Japanese prints discovered during this time and incorporated Japanese design elements in works such as "Divan Japonais" (1893), with its asymmetrical composition and broad areas of color. In this color lithograph, the celebrated dancer Jane Avril, accompanied by the music critic Edouard Dujardin, is shown attending a performance at the "Divan Japonais" (Japanese Sofa) nightclub by another star, Yvette Guilbert, who appears in the background. Although her head is not visible in Toulouse-Lautrecs radical composition, Guilbert is recognizable by her sleek formal gown and signature black gloves.
"Through his work, Toulouse-Lautrec drew new connections between art and daily life, becoming a central figure in the decadent society he portrayed," said Clifford Ackley, Department Chair and Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized this exhibition together with assistant curator Helen Burnham. "He transformed the art of the poster, and his designs were some of the greatest ever created."
Toulouse-Lautrec incorporated into his own highly individual vision stylistic elements from various contemporary artists, including the French painter Edgar Degas. An example of Degas influence can be seen in the lithograph "May Belfort" (1895), where the shifting perspectivedown into the orchestra pit and up to the stageis reminiscent of the multiple viewpoints in Degas work. Toulouse-Lautrec inserted himself into his images of nightclubs and hung his work in the cabaret Le Mirliton, one of his many haunts. He also designed advertising posters for his good friend the singer, comedian, and showman Aristide Bruant, as seen in the colorful poster "Aristide Bruant in his Cabaret" (1893), an iconic work featuring Bruant in his dark corduroy worker's jacket, wide black hat, bright red scarf and scowling features.
In addition to works by Toulouse-Lautrec, "Café and Cabaret" highlights evocative images of Parisian nightlight by several other celebrated artists of the period, including Pablo Picassos painting "Stuffed Shirts" (Les Plastrons) (1900), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlens poster "Collection of the Chat Noir" (1898), and Pierre Bonnards lithograph "At the Theater" (1895).
The MFAs Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs has also organized two additional exhibitions at the MFA, both on view from November 21, 2009July 3, 2010: "Albrecht Dürer: Virtuoso Printmaker", in the Clementine Haas Michel Brown Gallery, which showcases works by the great early German printmaker, and "Harry Callahan: American Photographer", in the Herb Ritts Gallery, which includes nudes, scenes of street life and elegant visions of nature by the celebrated 20th-century photographer. Through their juxtaposition, the exhibitions offer viewers works by one of the greatest artists of color lithography (Toulouse-Lautrec), alongside those by one of the greatest masters of black and white printmaking (Dürer), and those by one of the greatest and most influential American photographers (Callahan).