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ART SEEN - Toulouse-Lautrec: fine art and cabaret posters

ART SEEN // Art & Culture // Feb. 28, 2018

TOULOUSE-LAUTREC at the Fondation Gianadda: Reviving the golden age of Bohemian life in Paris

 - a review by Uli Van Neyghem

For the first time in Europe, the Pierre Gianadda Foundation shows an extraordinary private collection of around 90 posters and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

In Toulouse Lautrec's legendary posters for Cabarets and Music Halls like the Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir or the Eldorado, the swirl of energy, mix of classes and cultures and the highs and lows of urban life in nineteenth-century Paris come alive.  

He was the first artist, to elevate advertising to the status of fine art. This was an extraordinary shift in the history of art, getting rid of the boundaries between so-called "high art" (painting, drawing, sculpture) and "low art" (posters, logos and other forms of visual culture). Toulouse-Lautrec's career coincided with the expansion of the urban middle class: people with money to spend on entertainment, but who weren't part of high society. 

In contrast to nearly all of the other artists in his circle, who mostly worked for galleries or private collectors, he had no trouble making a living. This was chiefly because Parisian business owners realised they could make money from his unique modern vision.

Toulouse-Lautrec's celebration of consumer culture and iconic popular advertisements paved the way for Pop-Art and artists like Andy Warhol. 

In addition, his portrayals fueled the obsession with superstars, that persists until our days (think Madonna). His posters elevated the performers of Paris nightclubs (singers like Yvette Gilbert and May Belfort, dancers like Jane Avril and May Milton, actor Aristide Bruant or the female clown Cha-U-Kao) into the status of stardom. Jane Avril, one of his closest friends and one of Montmartre's most beloved cabaret dancers described it like this: "It is more than certain that I owe him the fame that I enjoyed, dating from his first poster of me."

Few artists of any period have been able to overcome social prejudice. Other avantgarde artists of the time like Degas, Manet or Van Gogh maintained an aloofness from their working-class subjects. Toulouse-Lautrec was able to develop true friendships that transcended the rigid class structure of nineteenth-century Paris. His brilliant insights into the glitter and desperation of Paris nightlife are touchingly humane.

Graphic works by contemporaries and fellow artists such as Bonnard, Steinlen and Mucha, as well as a collection of photographs taken by celebrated photographic artist Nadar, portraying iconic personalities from the same period (like Victor Hugo, Gustave Courbet and naturally the theatre stars of Paris' golden age) complete the exhibition.  

TOULOUSE-LAUTREC at the Fondation Gianadda: Reviving the golden age of Bohemian life in Paris
What:                        Toulouse-Lautrec à la Belle Epoque
Where:                      Fondation Gianadda
                                  Rue du Forum 59 
                                  CH-1920 Martigny
When:                       until June 10, 2018
Opening times:       every day from 10:00 - 18:00
Entry fees:               Adults: CHF 18
                                  Seniors: CHF 16
                                  Children from age 10: CHF 10 (family ticket): CHF 38
                                  Students: CHF 10



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