Paris by Night: Lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec
April - May 2003
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was famed for his closely-observed portrayals of Parisian nightlife, from the cabaret and theatre to bars and brothels. Often working from sketches produced on the spot at nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge, he captured the fleeting attitudes of performers on- and off-stage, in character and in repose. A great admirer of their lives and talents, he sought to penetrate behind the theatrical façade to produce unsentimental, psychologically astute portraits.
Lautrec’s artistic reputation was secured in the 1890s with the wide dissemination of more than 350 lithographic prints in the form of advertising posters and illustrations for books, newspapers and reviews. The technique assumed an importance in his oeuvre equal to painting, and he relished its spontaneity. A greasy medium would be applied directly onto a porous stone; when the stone was dampened and printing ink passed over it, the medium alone would become receptive to the ink. Experimenting widely with tones and textures, and developing a distinctive yet subtle handling of colour, Lautrec revolutionised the process of lithography, becoming one of the greatest exponents of the art.