CCLL tour r
veals the coloifu
and work of Toulouse-Lautrec
One of the most astonishing facts about Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec's lithograph,
is that it is six feet
high. While certainly a formidable size for a cabaret poster
in any age, it was even more formidable for Toulouse-
Lautrec. At only 4-feet-ll-inches tall, the artist had to
crawl upon a table in the print shop to draw on the stones
that would create it, his largest piece of work. It was no
matter for Toulouse-Lautrec, however, for he would have
climbed the cabaret's giant elephant twice over to stake a
claim to Paris' "Belle Epoque" - the age of the can-can
dancer and bohemian freedom.
Toulouse-Lautrec's life and work provided a fascinating
education for the 20 participants in the "Parisian
Nightlife" tour at the N.C. Museum of Art in February.
The walking lecture, part of the GAA's Carolina College
for Lifelong Learning, showcased the exhibit that had
appeared at the museum since November:"Toulouse-
Lautrec: Master of the Moulin Rouge." Exhibit curator and
museum director of education Joseph Covington treated
GAA program participants to a bit of everything he could
reveal about Toulouse.
In many ways, Toulouse owes his fame and career as a
lithograph artist to
which catapulted his name
into recognition. But then again, Covington pointed out,
the Moulin Rouge itself- a combination cabaret and dance
hall - owed its own popularity to Toulouse's gargantuan
depiction of the can-can dancer La Goulue ("The Glutton").
He was commissioned in 1891 to create the poster for the
Moulin Rouge, and although the dance hall had opened
two years before, it took Toulouse's style to transform the
hall's personality before the eyes ofits would-be patrons on
the street. Unlike his predecessor in color poster lithography,
Jules Cheret, Toulouse had no patience for detail. Gone
were the carefully drawn men in top hats that Cheret
showcased in his posters for Parisian night spots; in their
place were the commanding, simple images of its stars.
Toulouse believed, righdy, that simplicity was the best
message to stick in the minds ofswift-walking passersby in
the afternoon, the best message to lure them into the
cabaret that evening.
The singer Aristide Bruant, a favorite subject of Toulouse,
came to the artist when he opened at a new club and
asked for a poster. "The patron and the artist both realized
before anyone else," said Covington, "that this was adver-
tising. That it was the most powerful way to convey a mes-
sage."The Super Bowl, those Budweiser frogs, "Where's
the Beef," talking M&M's - if there hadn't been a Moulin
Rouge and a Toulouse-Lautrec, there might never have been
a Mikey with a Life cereal box.
For the stars of the cabarets, Toulouse's
posters were a ticket to fame. "Other artists
did drawings first and then committed an
image to an oil painting," said Covington.
"Toulouse turned that around. He did oil
paintings to get ready for his lithographs."
The result was that, far from being the
sturdy, stiff, still-life ilnage of a posed black-
and-white photograph or an oil painting,
the image of the star would leap off the
paper with color and personality and move-
ment - exacdy as Toulouse himself saw bohemian Paris.
But not every star fully appreciated Toulouse's historical
pull. He often drew lithographs of cabaret performers Jane
Avril and La Goulue; then, the most celebrated ofall the
singers at that time,Yvette Guilbert, asked him to create a
poster for her that she could give to potential employees.
"When she saw it," Covington said, "she responded, 'I
can't use this.You make me look ugly.'Well, Toulouse,
unlike Cheret, wasn't interested in making them look pretty.
He wanted to make her look interesting. So she rejected
it. And today, she's not as famous as Avril or La Goulue."
The more casual art patron knows the name Picasso
better than Toulouse; but participants in the Museum of
Art tour learned from Covington that "the one artist who
had a profound influence on Pablo Picasso when he first
arrived on the scene was Toulouse-Lautrec."Toulouse was
one ofthe first artists to move toward abstraction and to
reject realism. [n fact, said Covington, if one looks closely at
the wall in Picasso's 1895 "The Blue Room," one can eas-
ily see the bottom portion of Toulouse's poster ofsinger
May Milton, her white petticoat flailing beneath her can-
can kicks. It was the year Toulouse died from alcoholism at
Some patrons of Toulouse-Lautrec's work will find a few
of his lithograph elements to be more familiar, thanks to
last year's cinematic joy ride with Nicole Kidntan and Ewan
Covington said that's no coinci-
dence;Toulouse himselfis played by John Leguizamo in the
film, and much of the production was true to the era -
from the giant elephant that was home to song-and-dance
numbers to the giant windnllll sparked with lights that
adorned the Moulin Rouge club. Electricity was still a
novelty at the time, something that one can see in
Toulouse's bright works.
The tour marked the third trip to the exhibit by Dr.
Dixon Qualls ' 55 and his wife, Landy. Although their
daughter-in-law comes from a family ofprinters and the
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
CAR0 LINA ALUMNIREVlEW
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