press release

A cripple descended from aristocratic stock who became the controversial chronicler of modern-day Paris and ended his brief life ravaged by syphilis and alcoholism. The story of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec can very easily simply be-come the oft-told tale of this quirky artist who, for better or worse, became as one with his own art and circle of motifs. This autumn’s major exhibition at the Royal Collection of Graphic Art at the National Gallery of Denmark moves out of the shadow of the mythology surrounding the artist. Featuring more than 130 works, the exhibition presents a sharply focused image of an artist whose depictions of the Parisian entertainment scene dissected and commented on modern existence by means of striking and groundbreaking effects.

The Urban Scene

More than any other artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) stands as the enfant terrible of French late 19th century art. Over a brief but intense period of slightly more than 15 years the artist infiltrated the city’s entertainment scenes, interpreting virtue and vice across boundaries of class and social distinction without compromise. The city, which was described in Lautrec’s own day as a stage, became the starting point of his art. And the entertainment industry was the microcosm he used to record how the players on the urban scene staged themselves and their desires, regardless of gender and class.

Lautrec’s circle of motifs focuses on theatres, circuses, brothels, cafés, and dance halls, particularly in Montmartre. Here he created a repertoire of figures that comprised dancers, singers, actors, prostitutes, and their audiences and clients. Exercising his keen eye for tragic comedy this gallery of characters became an obvious source of subject matter in his work on decoding urban existence. The exhibition offers a veritable parade of such portrayals, demonstrating how Lautrec used caricature as a way of making shrewd observations of the social games being played; games which were set against the backdrop of a growing consumer culture and often centred on sexuality and desires.

A pioneer

Lautrec’s artistic identity and anti-bourgeois attitude prompted him to transgress the boundaries between popular and highbrow culture, prefiguring aspects of 20th century avant-garde art. Parallel to his purely artistic work he also created illus-trations and advertisements marketing a range of products and experiences.

The exhibition focuses attention on Lautrec’s graphic works and on selected drawings. It shows how he, with his keenly honed sense for the commercial mar-ket and mass communication, found his own radical and innovative idiom, particularly within the graphic medium – which includes his groundbreaking posters. In his graphic experiments he employed simplification, stylisation, and exaggeration to achieve a hitherto unseen form and effect that had a strong impact on the public conscience – an idiom which means that his artistic takes on the human condition remain as fresh and mischievous today as when they were created.

At the exhibition: Themes, guide, film, and app

The exhibition differs from conventional retrospectives by opting out of the typical mode of chronological presentation. Rather, the many works are arranged by themes, focusing on the various scenes and players featured in Lautrec’s universe. The exhibition is accompanied by an informative guide, and visitors can also – before, during, and after their visit – access other materials such as apps for their smartphones and iPods. The latter can be borrowed from the ticket desk. Also, the film Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre is shown every day in the exhibition and in the Gallery’s cinema.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Human Comedy