Saturday, March 2, 2013

This Lautrec is Damned Brazen

La Vache Enragé - 1896 - color lithograph - 79 x 57.5 cm

So begins a critique from 1893 by Félix Fénéon in the introduction to the catalogue for the Toulouse-Lautrec & His World exhibition.  A powerful exhibit now on view in Connecticut's New Britain Museum of American Art highlights a collection of over 150 works on paper.  Drawings, many lithographs and a handful of original posters comprise the show.  Fénéon continued, "he couldn't care less about outlines or colors."

  Edmée Lescot - 1893 - lithograph - 27 x 19 cm

After viewing the exhibition, and at a distance of over a century, it is difficult to asses the scandalous nature of Lautrec's subject matter or his line.  In fact what is most striking is the incredible economy of line that was used to create the frenzy of his favorite subjects, the actors, dancers, circus performers and prostitutes of Montmartre.

Surrounded by the survey of his work one realizes that Lautrec not only was a man in touch with his times but had a major role in defining those times.  He lived at a time of rapid developments in lithography which made possible the large scale posters he is famous for.  In turn his posters made his subjects recognizable throughout Paris.

The piece above shows his use of crachis, a splattered ink technique that helps define gradations much like the moku hanga woodcuts from Japan that he admired and collected.  The celebrity and courtesan were also  favorite subject matter in many Ukyio-e prints.

Utagawa Kunisada - Lady Naruto no mae - ca 1847-1852

While not intended as a survey of Lautrec's work and there are no painting included here, it did strike me that his brief 36 years were those of unceasing output.  The many pencil sketches attest to his penchant for evenings of Paris nightlife followed by days in the lithography studio.  The lithographs appears to be worked directly on the stone rather than traced of copied, giving them an extraordinary spontaneity.

Jane Avril - color lithograph - 124 x 91.5 cm

And of course without Lautrec's attention to celebrity where would Warhol be?

Toulouse-Lautrec & His World
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