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article imageOp-Ed: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — A centenary exhibition down under Special

By Robert G Cope     Feb 26, 2013 in Entertainment
Canberra - The Exhibition at the National Gallery – for this viewer – became more than a study on perspective, color, portraits, or periods of art; rather an examination of life, Henri's as well as that of Paris.
In 1901 – only 36 years-of-age -- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died at his mother's chateau. Australia came together as a Federation of states in that same year.
In 2013, to commemorate the first 100 years of the nation's new Capital City – Canberra – six rooms of his art mark the beginning of celebrations.
While Toulouse-Lautrec is best known for his posters as art, the reality I discovered was far beyond posters. More-or-less, as a chronology of his life, the six rooms follow a man illustrating immense talent as his art evolves from traditional oils to innovative expressions as draftsman, as print maker and as poster designer.
Girls being girls dressing themselves in the style of the time in a room set aside for young visitor...
Girls being girls dressing themselves in the style of the time in a room set aside for young visitors
As stated in the pamphlet given each attendee: A driving force behind Lautrec's art was his desire to portray character. He possessed extraordinary powers of examination and scrutinized his subjects' expressions, their gait, and their body language. Late 19th century Parisian society, particularly its underbelly, comes alive in his obsession with the dives, the brothels, the dance halls, and cafe' culture.
I found his art most telling of the dissolute reality, the desperate lives of women, both in 'houses of tolerance' (legally sanctioned prostitution) and in cabaret culture.
On first glance, the rich colors of a Moulin Rouge, the silhouetted dancing figures, the sinuous lines, the salacious themes, and the bright gaiety, give way on a closer examination of faces, eyes, and shapes of a mouth to tell a story of a gross exploitation of women, decay, and the morose.
To quote T.J. McMamara, from a London review in twenty years ago: His paintings and drawings make it quite clear that his attitude was not so much a lascivious view but a clear-eyed perception of the social forces that drove the women into this trade and his sympathy with the way they found some emotional relief in lesbian friendships.
Unfortunately (again to quote the viewers' guide): Henri's father -- Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec – was unhappy his son was applying his skill as an artist to what were, to all intents and purposes, advertisements for the underbelly of Paris –- questionable venues inhabited by risque performers.
The Count would be surprised today to see over 100 examples of his son's disreputable art gathered from the British Museum, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery, Washington D.C., half a dozen museums from France, and, most surprising, one work, as repatriation, from Japan, for a lost war.
Social and artistic statements from an extraordinary artistic career on exhibition until 2 April 2013.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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