When A City Speaks: A Rare Painting by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

March 2014
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Though his career lasted only a decade, no other artist is more associated with Parisian nightlife and turn-of-the-century decadence of the Belle Époque than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Born into an aristocratic family, Lautrec gravitated to art at a very young age, spending most of his formative years bedridden due to a multitude of illnesses and genetic issues stemming from the consanguineous marriage of his parents (they were first cousins). His mother was the driving force in his life, always encouraging and focusing his attentions on his art. By 1882, he had moved to Paris and joined the studio of famed painter Léon Bonnat. This is where he encountered the ideals that became known as Post-Impressionism.

A member of the Post-Impressionist group that counted among its ranks the likes of van Gogh and Gauguin, Lautrec focused his attentions on the Montmartre district of Paris, bringing to the forefront the more colorful aspects of the city’s bohemian lifestyle and never-ending list of characters. Artists, writers, prostitutes and performers attracted Lautrec’s attention, most likely because he could relate to these “outcasts” that, like him, were rejected by mainstream society.

When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened in 1889, Lautrec was commissioned to produce his now-famed series of posters, with subjects including singer Yvette Guilbert and the dancers Louise Weber (known as the outrageous La Goulue, creator of the “Can-Can”) and Jane Avril. His most telling works, however, focused upon the everyday people who called Montmartre home. In La Promeneuse (The Walker), Lautrec captures an unknown woman, walking away. Though she is faceless, a tremendous sensibility is translated in this rare work, which was gifted to artist Jules Contant and is one of a handful of Lautrec’s paintings that were intended as a personal gift.

Lautrec created art that was inseparable from his legendary life. He captured the nightlife of Paris, promoting Montmartre entertainers as celebrities. But most importantly, his paintings depict a deep reverence and empathy for those typically thought to be “less,” revealing a sadness and humor hidden beneath the glamour.

Learn more about La Promeneuse (The Walker) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Toulouse Lautrec

Toulouse Lautrec