Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity
- David Pollock
- 7 November 2018
Rewarding exhibition of work from the chronicler of Montmartre night-life
'Lithography is painting for the people,' declared the iconoclastic artist and pioneer of the medium, Honore Daumier in 1839. 'Oil painting is for the rich, engraving is for the bourgeoisie.' Half a century later, his artistic descendant Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec would create the artistic banners under which both constituencies would mingle in the high-living world of fin de siècle Paris, and Montmartre in particular. This new exhibition – which takes as its basis the poster works of Toulouse-Lautrec, with much more historical detail besides – might only be in the basement, but it's surely one of the most rewardingly curated events the Scottish National Galleries will present this year.
As much as Toulouse-Lautrec is an important figure in the world of Post-Impressionism and Pop Art-predating lithograph posters, he is shown here to be almost a supporting character in his own story; and the lead, if there is one, is the city of Paris itself. The son of French aristocracy whose legs were foreshortened by a combination of genetic disorder and childhood illness, he was an enthusiastic consumer as well as a chronicler of the night-life of Montmartre, chiefly through his addictions to wine and absinthe and his frequent use of the services of sex workers.
The 21st century wasn't even two years old when Toulouse-Lautrec's vices killed him, yet this show bears a celebratory edge of Montmartre nights in full swing. The famed 1891 advertising poster for Moulin Rouge which made his name is here, as are an advertisement for the writer Victor Joze's social satire Reine de Joie (Queen of Joy) and the frontispiece for 'Elles', Toulouse-Lautrec's collection of studies of women who work in brothels; each bears a unique combination of the glamorously alluring and the faintly disturbing.
There are also generous sections on influences on imitators, and on subjects and contemporaries like the dancers Loie Fuller and the singers Yvette Guilbert and Aristide Bruant, adding up to a packed and densely curated show which gives a rich, storytelling sense of place and time.
Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity is at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 20 Jan.