Leading lights of Paris: Toulouse Lautrec at Ara Pacis
‘Hungarian and Italian may appear a curious collaboration for an exhibition on the quintessentially Parisian painter Toulouse Lautrec. But it is the loan of 170 definitive works from Lautrec’s oeuvre at the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest to which we owe this exhibition.
Timed to mark last year’s 150th anniversary of Lautrec’s birth, the exhibition was first displayed in Budapest and is now gracing the Eternal City at Rome’s Ara Pacis; an iconic location for an equally iconic artist.
Focusing on the final decade of Lautrec’s brief career 1891-1900, the exhibition blends a broad range of graphic material: posters, book illustrations, sheet music covers and playbills. Through the media, it is possible to truly examine the artist and innovator who has become synonymous with Belle Epoque Paris like no other.
The exhibition leads us through the cabarets, theatres, and brothels of Lautrec’s world, beginning at the Moulin Rouge, the birthplace of Lautrec’s career. It was a commission to design a poster for the cabaret in 1891 that started it all, and in the gallery’s first room ‘Parisian Nights’ we are introduced to the leading lights of the cabaret circuit, Lautrec’s principal subjects. Lithographs of the dancers La Goulue, Jane Avril, and the performer Aristide Bruant (one of Lautrec’s best known lithographs) appear alongside caricatures of the cabaret’s clientele. Through these works we can discern Lautrec as an astute observer and chronicler of Paris society.
Archive video footage of theatre performances and of the dancer Loie Fuller (appearing on film as a whirling dervish of swirling skirts and colour and energy) offer a fascinating counterpoint to the lithographs in the section devoted to Lautrec’s theatre scenes. Fuller is also seen alongside dancers and singers Jane Avril, May Belfort, and Yvette Guilbert in the adjoining section dedicated to ‘Le Dive’, Lautrec’s female stars immortalised in his many lithographs.
A leading exponent of colour lithography, Lautrec was as at ease in the printing workshop as in the bars and cabarets of Montmartre. As we progress through the exhibition we see Lautrec’s growing mastery of the medium, a technique which enabled mass production and proved crucial in popularizing both Lautrec’s work as well as the performers and locales they represented.
Concluding with the section ‘Among Friends’, the exhibition offers us an insightful look at Lautrec’s life and work and the key social spaces prevalent at the turn-of-the-century-Paris.
Museo of Ara Pacis
Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome
Til 8 May 2016
Everyday 9:30am – 7:30pm
Entry fee: adults €11 – concessions €9