RENO, NV.- The Nevada Museum of Art
is presenting a major traveling exhibition which celebrates the broad spectrum of avant-garde artists at the center of the Parisian artistic and cultural scene at the turn of the last century an era labeled by contemporaries La Belle Époque.
The art of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec epitomizes -- in subject, style, and the use of new technology -- many of the modern tendencies in French art at the turn of the nineteenth century. With his art as a central focus, and considered in tandem with that of Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Juan Gris, and Mary Cassatt, to name just a few, this is the first exhibition to present a kaleidoscopic view of the work of a generation of artists who continued the battle for artistic liberation from Academic standards fought by the Impressionists and by artists such as Seurat, Gauguin and van Gogh. The exhibition puts the innovative art of these better-known artists into context, revealing that they did not work in isolation.
Paris was a breeding ground for artistic and literary movements which challenged the establishment and sought to come to terms with a complex society no longer easily definable. And, within Paris, café-concerts, cabarets, dancehalls, and brothels were
aspects of modern life which attracted the attention of a panoply of avant-garde artists who, like Toulouse-Lautrec, rendered these themes with a concern for naturalism and vivacity. This exhibition is the first to investigate the variety of ways that the broad array of avant-garde artists (beyond those artists associated with the movements of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism) defined their art as Modern during this rich period of artistic experimentation.
Drawn from public and private collections in Holland and France, this groundbreaking exhibition is comprised of approximately 200 works in a dizzying array of media: paintings, watercolors and drawings; rare zinc shadow puppet silhouettes; illustrated programs for the famous Chat Noir cabaret shadow theater; and key ephemera for Parisian theaters, circuses, cabarets and café-concerts which document the activities of artists during this rich period.
After the humiliating defeat of France by Germany in the war of 1870-71, the French Academy and academic art, per se, continued to lose much of its power and influence (having already been eroded by artists of the Barbizon school, as well as by Courbet, Manet and the emerging Impressionists). In the 1880s and 1890s the new generation of artists became more independent and experimental; exhibitions were no longer limited to the official Salon but to private galleries. Rather than depicting subjects from Greek and Roman mythology, and rather than working in a classical style of art, Parisian artists became much more involved in depicting the vibrant contemporary life of Paris: the street, bars and cabarets, the theater cafe-concerts, and the circus. Landscapes and cityscapes became dynamic themes of symbolist
and Impressionist/realist artists. In addition, turn-of-the-century artists and members of the Nabis created drawings as studies for lithographs or for the new mass-market photo-relief printing process used to illustrate albums, books and popular, satirical journals. At the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, these journalistic artists made drawing an essential media for avant-garde art.
In the early 1880s, the Chat Noir Cabaret in Montmartre became the center of avant-garde artistic and literary activity in Paris. It was in this cabaret environment that caricature and humor became the trademarks of many anti-establishment artists especially the group of artists and writers named the Incohérents. In 1886 the young artist Henri Rivière transformed traditional, Asian shadow theater into a proto-cinema form of entertainment. Rivières new technology produced a sophisticated form of shadow theater with dramatic color effects, moving parts, music and song which were performed nightly for ten years at the Chat Noir Cabaret and which influenced the art of numerous artists.
Section I: Realism/Naturalism
· Landscape and Seascape
· Daily Life
Following the lead of the Barbizon, Impressionist, and Pointillist artists before them, artists of the 1880s and 1890s, such as Emile Schuffenecker and Achille Lauge continued to explore and expand the aesthetic potential of depicting the French landscape and cityscape with a sensibility to light and nature, as seen in works like Alphonse Osberts Landscape Near Vichy. But they disregarded earlier photographic realism in favor of painterly textures, as found in Charles Lacostes view of Montmartre and Charles Guillouxs views of the Seine and Notre Dame.
Paris street scenes, domestic interiors, family scenes and still-lives were equally important subjects for artists such as Mary Cassatt who sought to depict the intimacy of domestic life. The idealized academic nude was replaced by less-then-perfect half-dressed bodies waking, washing, and relaxing, as seen in works by Paul Helleu, Charles Maurin, Felix Vallatton, and LouisWelden Hawkins. Bourgeois women are depicted sewing in works by Hippolyte Petitjean, playing the violin (Eugène Carrière) or piano, going to the farmers market (Fernand Piet), or shopping at fashionable stores (Hermann-Paul).
Section II: Entertainment and Performance
· The Chat Noir
· The Circus
· Bars, Café-Concerts, Dance
· Avant-Garde Theatre and the Nabis
The entertainment found at cabarets such as the Chat Noir (which existed from 1881 to 1896), at café- concerts, circuses, and theaters served as rich sources of pictorial inspiration for Parisian artists who looked to the naturalist novels of Balzac and Zola as their models for dealing with modern life. Singers who performed gutsy, often bawdy street songs -- such as Aristide Bruant, who is represented in a crayon
drawing by Théophile Steinlen and Yvette Guilbert -- especially appealed to contemporary artists. Circus performers, ballet dancers, and can-can dancers, as well as actors and actresses of the avant-garde theaters (EdouardManet), Le Théatre Libre and Le Théatre de LOeuvre were favorite subjects of Louis Legrand, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edouard Vuillard, Henri Gabriel Ibels, Juan Gris, and many other young artists.
Beginning in 1886, the Chat Noirs shadow theater attracted an entourage of artists, writers and musicians from around the world. The aesthetics of the Chat Noir shadow theater flat silhouettes, caricature and subtle, abstract color variations resonated with the nascent modernist concerns of Toulouse- Lautrec, Louis Anguetin, Emile Bernard, Charles Guilloux, Paul Gauguin and, especially, with the future Nabis -- Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Henri Gabriel Ibels, all of whom lived and/or worked in Montmartre. The plays produced at the Chat Noir varied from the Napoleonic saga, L'Epopée (1886) to outright absurd humor such as Henry Somm's Le fils de l'eunuque (1888) to a mix of realism and fantasy as found in Henri Rivière's The Temptation of Saint Anthony to the serious symbolist, religious play La Marche à l'ètoile (1890) by Rivière.
The Chat Noir cabarets spirit was anti-seriousits regular members laughed at themselves and often created puns and jokes which became part of their art. In 1882 the young writer, Jules Lévy, founded the group called Les Incohérents; they have more recently been referred to as the Big Bang of modernity. The philosophy and aesthetics of the Chat Noir and the Incohérents imbued the 1880s and 1890s with a proto-Dada and proto-Surrealist liberating art filled with humor and wit which strongly influenced art of the 20th century.
Section III: Symbolism
The Nabis and other artists sought to separate their art from naturalism by depicting nature with an emphasis on line, color and form; landscape artists such as Charles Guilloux represented through nature a dream-like or ideal realm; other symbolists, such as Eugène Grasset, favored a more literary subject matter, often with religious references or mystical overtones, as in works by Fernand Khnopff. Symbolism in its
various forms became a vital artistic activity for the avant-garde in Paris who sought to escape modern life and to present in their art the mystery of existence in visual terms which went beyond rational comprehension. Shadow plays at the Chat Noir such as Rivières La Marche à létoile which were presented to thousands of spectators -- artists, writers and the general public, alike -- embodied similar symbolist tendencies.
Section IV: Portraits of Artists and Writers
Highlighted are portraits of a number of the active participants artists, writers and performers in the Parisian world of art and culture. Charles Maurin and Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, were close friends who influenced each other artistically. Alphonse Mucha created lithographic posters in the 1890s that made the great star, Sarah Bernhardt, an even greater icon of French theater. The writers and critics Georges dEsparbes, Theodor de Wyzewa, and Camille Mauclair were instrumental in propagating the aesthetics of modernism at the turn-of-the-century.