Date of Visit: January 14, 2013
Time I took: 2hours
Verdict: 5 Stars
While in Canberra, I took time out to view Henri Toulouse-Lautrec Exhibition at the National Art Gallery. It was a good-call since it was excellently curated from the Master’s early works following the landscapes of Monet, Renoir and Cézanne (in the Impressionist genre) progressing to “La Goulue” of the famed Moulin-Rouge poster.
I was especially intrigued by Henri’s caricaturist style of figure drawing which brought to life the characters taken from brothels and seedy clubs in Montmartre and the infamous Moulin Rouge by narrating them in a melancoly of flat colours, marked silhouettes and unusual points of view. The tilted upturned hoinky noses, simple strokes for feet, curvy strokes and empty spaces brought movement and undoubtedly draws the audience into the excitement of his caberet. His broke ground by boldy decking his posters with logos, which pioneered today’s advertising mojo.
Before attending the exhibition, I had no idea what he looked like nor for that matter – a DWARF – the result of generations of inbreeding – his maternal and paternal grandmas were sisters! So I guess the sharp pointy upturned noses of his subjects were the result of his perspective from looking up people’s noses. He used simple strokes for his subjects’ feet since his own legs were stunted and child-like. Imagine a man with a full-grown torso with tiny arms and legs! He must have been a very shrewd and self-confident man to be able to poke fun in himself in order to be accepted into the Parisian arts and cultural scene.
Henri showed real feelings towards his subjects through the tenderness he depicted on their faces by spending time detailing their features. His attention is turned to personages whereby “he focuses and analyses at close the human “type” that he meets (ala Flaubert) and he presents them under an ironic distorted light with new frames, new cut of scenes, new colours and new juxtapositions of colours.”
On a closer examination of his companions’ potraits, one can see his sense of humor and his cryptic messages, eg making fun of his man-around-town friend, Louis, below with a phalic-like walking-cane tucked under his arm.
Henri is very “Japonaised”. He was strongly influenced by Utamaro and the Japanese ukiyo-e woodprints. Both artists emphasized the new connections between art and everyday life eg lives of the working-class women in brothels and even lived with them.
Note the slender neck, swish of hair and state of undress… very Geisha methinks! Also, a bit of goss aside – he has a fetish for redheads!
Henri’s monogramed ukiyo-eish signature on his painting, so similar to Asian painters’ seal.
In Henri’s posters, he extrapolated the theme of the Japanese’s graphic linearism, eg the profiles of the top-hat man and the black shadows behind the subject. He also loved splattering, which is sprinkling his painting with diluted washes of paint (you need to sneak up close to the real thing to see it).
Henri’s posters are art masterpieces and documents of an age – they WIN public’s love. What makes the poster so successful was that poster resonates with the grassroot people, since it is cheap to reproduce (lithography), thus everyone can have a piece of artwork to hang in their house. This explained why his early posters were taken down (aka stolen by his admirers) as soon as they were put up. Hear, hear, Posters = high artwork affordable by the common people.
On a personal note, he was estanged from his father because he was a commercial artist – which was a ‘no-no’ in aristocracy. Fortunately, they reconciled shortly before his death aged 36 because he father came to realised that he was making oodles of money!
Similar to contemporary rockstars, an artist needs a promoter, and his promoter was his mom. She built him a museum after his death so his legacy lives on. Viva Mama!
Some FYI additional reading:
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese ukiyo-e | Modern Tokyo Times
Japan Uki-yoe museum has the largest collection of Ukiyo-e collection in Japan, unfortunately the web is in Japanese.
This is my favourite painting of all – “Le Goulue with 2 women”. Isn’t she the quintessential Grand Dame around town? Check out her style – lazy eyes, smirk on her face, a ciggy dangling from her lips rocking the eff-the world attitude! Geez, only Henri can elevate vulgarism to classy! LOL