Performers of the Belle Époque: Aristide Bruant

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.

Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ambassadeurs, Aristide Bruant, 1892. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in orange, red, blue and black on two sheets of wove paper, 52 15⁄16 × 36 5⁄8 in. Private collection

Presenting himself as the voice of the underclass, Aristide Bruant performed in the persona of a rough laborer singing songs in Parisian slang about the conditions of the poor. After making a name for himself at the Chat Noir cabaret, he opened the Mirliton in 1885, warning his audience that it was “for those seeking to be abused.” Once inside, patrons, especially those “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” were subjected to his mocking insults. Bruant’s notoriety grew beyond Montmartre to more sophisticated entertainment venues near the Champs-Élysées.

Toulouse-Lautrec created this striking poster for Bruant’s limited engagement at the Ambassadeurs, one of the city’s oldest café-concerts. He first drew his sitter at half-length in pencil, then created a large scale watercolor and gouache study. With bold, expansive regions of color, Toulouse-Lautrec simplified and synthesized Bruant’s most identifiable attributes—his overbearing confidence and his signature costume (dark cloak, hat, red scarf, boots, and walking stick)—and immortalized the entertainer. After Pierre Ducarre, the manager of the Ambassadeurs, rejected this radical poster, Bruant threatened: “You will post it on either side of the stage. . . . If it is not done . . . then I’m not going on!” Both the performance and the poster were tremendously successful, but Ducarre refused to pay for the design.

Who is George Condo?

Exhibition at The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

With a net worth of almost as much as the celebrities he creates works for, George Condo has quickly taken over the celebrity art world. Even if you have never heard his name, chances are you have seen some of his work. The truth is, Condo has a foothold over our culture in ways that we may not even know. Condo was born in Concord, New Hampshire, and has worked with the likes of Kim Kardashian and Jack Kerouac. One of his biggest clients has been Kanye West, who he worked with to explore everything from twitter profile pictures to album cover art and back-up dancers for a VMA performance.

Condo is also known for his breakdown of pictorial images in a way that differs from mainstream art historical styles such as expressionism or surrealism. Instead, he creates a hybridization of different styles to create his own unique one. His art is filled with inventiveness and existential humor. The Way I think surveys over 200 works spanning Condo’s entire career, including a few drawings of when he was just eight year old. This exhibition gives us a view into the mind of the artist and how he sees the world around him. It is rather extraordinary to peer into the humorous world of someone who is as talented and established as Condo.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern

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.