Sunday, October 21, 2012

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in France in 1864 and went on to become one of the most influential illustrators and printers of his time.  His most well-known and successful work centers on the decadent life of urban Paris.  Lautrec was especially drawn to the theater district of Monmartre where the most famous cabaret performers played, and artists, writers, and philosophers came to live.  During the time when his work was most prolific, in the late 1890s, Lautrec was living in a post-impressionist Europe, swamped by an overwhelming atmosphere of indulgence in alcohol and sordid entertainment.  Richard Thomson calls it a “means to represent a complex, fluctuating scene, chic and seedy, corrupt and commercial, subtle and gross”(508). His ability to capture this feeling is his most successful quality as an artist.
Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret 1892
Lautrec manages to display the eccentricity of personality with sparing, energetic lines that show the influence of master drawers like Degas, and utilizes traits of Japanese prints like large, flat color areas, and oblique points of view in his advertising posters for celebrities like Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant. His talent for abstraction offers a seductive, yet innocent glimpse into Parisian nightlife that played on popular fad and intrigue of the urban lifestyle.  Other successful strategies in Lautrec’s work are his process of sketching performers in their own surroundings, building a bond of familiarity for their unique characters, employing free-form lettering for clear direction of information, and using a tone of decorative unity that suits his medium of two dimensional color lithography.  I think Lautrec’s least successful work is his paintings, because although they retain his linear style of working, his line quality is at its most expressive and powerful in his prints due to its economy and harmony with the flat use of color and compositional abstraction.
Jane Avril 1893

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