Toulouse-Lautrec Resolutely Modern at Grand Palais in Paris

The museums on Avenue du Général Eisenhower have been on a tear this season.

While the Petit Palais has a wonderful exhibition on Vincenzo Gemito and another Neapolitan painter, Luca Giordano,

on the other side of the street, the Grand Palais is answering with a respectable double feature. We have the chance to see a very comprehensive retrospective on El Greco, which I told you about in another post, as well as a retrospective on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1894-1901) .

Modern French Art Toulouse-Lautrec
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The exhibition about Henri Toulouse Lautrec is the one I want to tell you about today.
Not since 1992 has an exhibition been organized about this French artist, as small in height as he was big in reputation.

Modern Artist  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Reine de Joie
When I think about him, what springs to my mind are smoky, dusty bars on the slopes of Montmartre with the pungent air of love and sorrows. Smoke, alcohol, and absinthe.

This is, indeed, where we find our Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa. Hear what an impressive name that is?

His was one of the oldest noble families in France. Unfortunately, due to incestuous marriages, common at the time to preserve the blue bloodline, he never enjoyed hail health, and despite the many treatments his mother gave him, his legs never developed. They remained the legs of a child with a torso of an adult. He was only 4’9″ [1.52 meters].

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Modern Artist at Grand Palais
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Rachou

He stopped studying, and under the aegis of his uncle and his painter friend René Princeteau, he began working as an artist. He would work in the ateliers of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon, where he would frequent Vincent van Gogh, Adolphe Albert, Emile Bernard, and others.

Toulouse-Lautrec Modern Art
Toulouse Lautrec Monsieur Fourcade

Post-impressionist painter. He worked as an Art Nouveau illustrator. His paintings tell the story of Parisian life at the turn of the 19th-to-20th century. The life of Moulin-Rouge and other bars in the 18th arrondissement.

Toulouse-Lautrec Modern Artist
Aristide Bruant

Remember Woody Allen’s wonderful film Midnight in Paris or the even more unforgettable Moulin Rouge by Australian director Baz Luhrmann? Well, that was his Paris. Now that I think of it, both films even paid tribute to our Henri.

Yvette Guilbert Modern Fine Art
Yvette Guillbert Singing Linger Longer Loo

Getting back to the exhibition, I was impressed by the portraits of the showgirls of the day Jane Avril, Louise Weber, the queen of the cancan, nicknamed La Goulue, (the gluttonous) because between dances, she was in the habit of emptying the patrons’ glasses. Then, there’s the poster that she commissioned him to make to advertise her dance hall. And those of the singer Yvette Guilbert with her green dress, red hair, and long black gloves. Yvette was also Toulouse Lautrec’s muse.

Another work that I admired on this visit was a stained-glass window from the Musée d’Orsay. A work by two artists, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York, 1848 -1933), titled Au nouveau cirque, Papa Chrysanthème.

Toulouse-Lautrec Resolutely Modern Art
Au Nouveau Cirque
Papa Chrysanthème

Commissioned by Siegfried Bing, a shop owner who wanted to furnish his Parisian shop in pure Art Nouveau style. Henri made the cartoons for the stained-glass windows that Tiffany then made in New York. Stained glass depicts a woman from the back in the audience at a circus, in a beautiful dress with ample sleeves, a hat full of bows, and her theater glasses. It won a place of honor in Bing’s shop in its Japanese section.

Two thoughts on this exhibition that shows 225 works by the artist:

I found out how well known and appreciated Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is abroad. Many of the paintings hanging in the beautiful setting of the Grand Palais came from the United States and Russia, along with masterpieces kept in the museum of Albi, his hometown, and the Musée d’Orsay.

Toulouse-Lautrec Modern Master
The Opera Messalina in Bordeaux

Despite having a body that certainly did him no favors, he managed to grasp every opportunity life gave him. Multifaceted and curious, he knew how to express his love for art, which he had chosen to pursue at a young age.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales
From October 9, 2019 to January 27, 2020