Toulouse-Lautrec and the golden age of the poster

Pin-Ups: Toulouse Lautrec and The Art of Celebrity was our very first show to explore the work of one of the most innovative and popular French artists of the era known as the ‘Belle Époque’, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

Charles Maurin, Portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893

Lautrec was an outstanding painter, printmaker and caricaturist renowned above all for his immersion in the theatrical and celebrity culture of Paris. More than 75 posters, prints, paintings and drawings by him and his contemporaries such as Pierre Bonnard, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen and the ‘father of the modern poster’ Jules Chéret were on display. The exhibition included many of Lautrec’s finest graphic artworks made for legendary nightclubs such as the Moulin Rouge and the Ambassadeurs.

Pin-Ups also included the art of British artists drawn to the dynamic café culture of Paris, such as Walter Sickert, Arthur Melville, J D Fergusson and William Nicholson.

Lautrec has long been admired for the startlingly modern posters he designed and for his mastery of the recently developed printmaking technique of lithography. His career coincided with a revolutionary moment, just as the poster emerged as an important means of mass-marketing. Lithography and poster-making were central to his creative process from 1891, when he made his first experiments in the technique.

The artist was born into aristocracy in Albi, near Toulouse in south-west France, and with a rare bone disorder that stunted his growth and caused him to walk with a cane. Nevertheless, Lautrec displayed great natural artistic talent and pursued a career as an artist in Paris, a city famous for its cabarets, dance halls and cafés.

Lautrec lived, worked and socialised in the vibrant, liberated district of bohemian Montmartre.  Pin-Ups focuses on the artist’s lithographic posters, portfolio prints and illustrations which made famous Montmartre’s venues and their stars – personalities such as Jane Avril, Aristide Bruant and Yvette Guilbert.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Jane Avril 1899
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (Poster), 1891, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The first poster he designed, this advertised the dancer ‘La Goulue’ performing at the Moulin Rouge and made Lautrec a household name literally overnight after 3000 were pasted around Parisian streets.

Visitors to the exhibition can also take in Yvette Guilbert’s travel case, letters and music scores from the era, a projection of Loie Fuller from 1900, and old photos of the Moulin Rouge.

Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity was accompanied by a beautifully-designed catalogue.

By Hannah Brocklehurst, Curator of Prints and Drawings, 5 October 2018