Performers of the Belle Époque: May Belfort

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

May Belfort_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, May Belfort, 1895. Crayon, brush, and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in red, black, gray, and yellow on wove paper, 31 5⁄16 × 24 in. Private collection

“It goes without saying that proofs before letters or prints on special paper of posters . . . are more valuable than ordinary copies.” —author Charles Hiatt

With her little girl stage persona, black cat, and nonsensical songs, Irish singer May Belfort charmed Parisian audiences at a time when there was growing interest in British entertainers. On view in Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque are three iterations of this work: a rare trial proof (one of only three known impressions) and two finished posters (one of which incorporates the name of the venue where Belfort performed). All three show how effectively Toulouse-Lautrec isolated color—seen in Belfort’s trademark ruby red lips and dress—to package and promote performers. Similar in size, May Milton is considered a pendant poster. The two performers were romantically involved.

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