09. Oktober - 27. Januar 2020 Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales Paris

Toulouse-Lautrec: Resolutely Modern

Affiche de l’exposition, © Affiche de la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, 2019
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, L’Anglaise du Star au Havre, 1899, huile sur bois, 41 x 32,8 cm Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, © Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, France
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Danse au Moulin Rouge, dit aussi La Goulue et Valentin le Désossé, panneau pour la baraque de la Goulue, à la Foire du Trône à Paris (panneau de gauche), 1895, huile sur toile, 298 x 316 cm, Paris, musée d’Orsay © Rmn-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Rousse (La Toilette), 1889, huile sur carton, 67 x 54 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, © Rmn-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Exhibition produced by the musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie and the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais with the exceptional support of the ville Albi city and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.

Exhibition produced with the exceptional assistance of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, holder of the entire lithographic work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Three rejections define the established view of Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901): he despised the values of his class, ignored the art market and exploited Parisian nightlife and the sex trade, looking down on it. The liberation of forms and satirical verve of his greatest work are evidence. To this conflictual vision of his modernity, typical of the years 1870-1880, we must substitute another, more positive view. This exhibition – which brings together about 200 works – seeks to reinstate the artist and identify his singularity. The contradiction is in appearance only, as Lautrec himself simultaneously acted as heir and networker, by conquering public space, and as an accomplice to the world that he conveyed with unique force, and at times a fierce fondness, making «the present life» more intense and meaningful without any judgement. Rather than ascribe to a caricature that seeks to hurt or even humiliate, he should be viewed in a very French lineage of expressive realism, abrupt, funny and direct (as Yvette Guilbert would say), which includes such names as: Ingres, Manet and Degas. Like them, too, Lautrec made photography his ally. More than any other 19th century artist, he associated with photographers, amateur or professional, was aware of their power, contributed to their promotion and make use of their effects in his work on movement. Lautrec’s photographic archive, moreover, follows the aristocratic games of appearances and identities that are exchanged for pleasure, a way of saying that life and painting do not have to comply to ordinary limits or those of the avant- garde. «Everything delight him», concludes Thadée Natanson.

Since 1992, the date of the last French retrospective of the artist, countless exhibitions have explored the connections in the works of Toulouse-Lautrec to «Montmartre culture», which he concurrently chronicled and criticised. This sociological approach, pleased by what it tells us of the expectations and anxieties of the time, reduced the scope of an artist whose origins, opinions and open aesthetics protected him from all inquisitorial temptation. Lautrec never positioned himself as an accuser of urban vices and decadent affluence. By his birth, training and life choices, he saw himself rather as a pugnacious and comical interpreter, terribly human in the sense of Daumier or Baudelaire, of a freedom that needs to be better understood by contemporary audiences. By giving too much weight to the context and folklore of the Moulin-Rouge, we have lost sight of the aesthetic, poetic ambition which Lautrec invested in what he learned, in turn, from Princeteau, Bonnat and Cormon. As evidenced by his correspondence, Manet, Degas and Forain allowed him, from the mid- 1880s, to transform his powerful naturalism into a more incisive and caustic style. Yet there was no linear, uniform progression, and true continuities are observed on both sides of his short career. One of them is the narrative component from which Lautrec strayed much less than one might think.

It is particularly clear in his approaches to death, around 1900, when his vocation as a historical painter took a desperate turn. The other dimension of the work that must be attached to his training is the desire to represent time, and soon to deploy duration as much as freeze momentum. Encouraged by his photographic passion and the success of Degas, electrified by the world of modern dancers and inventions, Lautrec never ceased to reformulate the space-time of the image.


9 October 2019 – 27 January 2020

Grand Palais, Paris
National Galleries
Square Jean Perrin entrence

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