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The exhibition opening in the spring to mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) will showcase a rich selection from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Department of Prints and Drawings. In the last ten years of his life the French artist made lithographs, which will be exhibited alongside These Ladies in the Refectory, a painting in the museum’s ownership. A special feature of the exhibition is that such a large segment of the Budapest Lautrec collection – some one hundred and seventy works – has thus far only been displayed on one occasion in the last fifty years at the Museum of Fine Arts, in 1964. In addition to Lautrec’s works and contemporaneous photographs, the Paris of the late-19th-century “belle époque” will be evoked by such rarities as motion pictures and sound recordings from around 1900, in which the characters known from Lautrec’s art come alive.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was born 150 years ago in 1864 into one of the most important and oldest aristocratic families in France, in the southern town of Albi. The artist, who suffered from a rare genetic disorder, demonstrated his talent for drawing at a very early age, thus allowing him to study at the Parisian studio of Fernand Cormon, a noted painter of the day, along with fellow students Émile Bernard, Loius Anquetin and Vincent van Gogh. In 1884 he moved to Montmartre, the bustling world of which became both his home and the chief inspiration for his works. He had no desire for prizes or recognition but he did regard it as important that his works should be accessible to as many people as possible and was, therefore, happy to have them published in newspapers, and enthusiastically threw himself into a genre that had just then come into being; the world of advertising posters.
He was brought true recognition with precisely such a poster in 1891, which he designed for the Moulin Rouge. (This poster –lent by the Albertina, Vienna – can also be seen at the exhibition now to open in Budapest.) From this point on he passionately made lithographs, producing some 360 pieces, of which thirty were posters. Although the technique for making lithographs was not unknown prior to this time, in the 1890s it enjoyed a second golden age. For Lautrec his paintings and lithographs were of equal importance: at his exhibitions he almost always displayed his paintings, posters, lithographs and drawings together, thus communicating that all of the works that he produced using various techniques were of the same rank. He devoted great care to the execution of his lithographs and implemented every detail with utmost care.
The Museum of Fine Arts’ Department of Prints and Drawings can boast of over one hundred thousand works, allowing an insight into virtually complete oeuvres of numerous artists, including that of Lautrec Most of the works preserved here by the French artist came into the possession of the institution through purchases and donations in a remarkably short period in the first half of the 1910s, not long after the artist’s death. The museum has around 240 works by Lautrec; such comparably rich holdings are only found in Europe in the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris, the Gerstenberg collection in Berlin as well as the public collections of prints and drawings in Berlin and Dresden. The Museum of Fine Arts’ famous Lautrec painting, These Ladies in the Refectory , entered the collection in 1913. The collection of the Department of Prints and Drawings provides a comprehensive survey of Toulouse-Lautrec’s graphic oeuvre in regard to both their functions (posters, illustrations for books and periodicals, cover designs, theatre programmes and cast lists and covers for sheet music) and themes. In addition to two drawings, the department treasures over 200 lithographs in its collection – among them many printed in limited impressions (12-25), numbered and signed, some even inscribed by the artist – as well as 10 large posters, which will be displayed together with five posters on loan from the Albertina in Vienna.
The works in the exhibition will be arranged in eight thematic groups. The first section will present the characteristic figures and stars of the Parisian nights, evoking the most important locations of the entertainment industry from the end of the 19th century – music cafés, dance halls and cabarets – as well as the most popular stars (Aristide Bruant, Jane Avril, Yvette Guilbert). A separate chapter will be devoted to works linked to the theatre: posters, cast lists, as well as scenes depicting the stage and the audience. The theme of brothels will also form an independent unit, with These Ladies in the Refectory , the museum’s only oil painting by Lautrec, at its centre. Included in this section is a series of lithographs from 1896 depicting intimate moments from the world of the brothel with unusual empathy, titled Elles (Girls), counted among the artist’s most significant works. Lautrec’s music covers and horse racethemed sheets will be placed in one thematic group, while works he executed on commission from his friends or which have more personal inspirations are allocated a place in the section titled among friends. The final part of the exhibition will present the history of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Lautrec collection partly through documents and partly through highlighting sheets in an especially small number of copies that entered the collection, thus paying tribute to the extraordinarily deliberate and painstaking efforts of the museum experts of the time to enrich the collection.
The exhibition is curated by Zsuzsa Gonda and co-curated by Kata Bodor, art historians of the Department of Prints and Drawings.