Toulouse-Lautrec’s First Print

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.

Moulin Rouge, La Goulue_side by side

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (left) Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in black on two sheets of wove paper. Trial proof, 65 3/4 × 46 7⁄16 in. Private collection (right) Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in four colors. Key stone printed in black, color stones in yellow, red, and blue on three sheets of wove paper, 75 3⁄16 × 46 1⁄6 in. Private collection

The newspapers have been very kind to our offspring. I’m sending you a clipping written in honey ground in incense. My poster has been a success on the walls.—Toulouse-Lautrec to his mother, 1891

Toulouse-Lautrec’s first attempt at printmaking was this poster used to advertise Montmartre’s entertainment hotspot. With it, he innovatively transformed an image drawn from popular culture into an iconic work of art marked by its modernity. It was the first to feature a star attraction, dancer La Goulue (The Glutton) who took erotic provocation to the extreme, delighting audiences with the chahut, a vigorous cancan. She was described in Le Figaro Illustré as “bending her body so much to convince you she was about to break in half, the folds of her dress were on fire.”

For the poster, Toulouse-Lautrec created sketches and a nearly full-size drawing. He transferred the image onto the lithographic stone with brush and crayon, and worked closely with printers to correct proofs produced from four separately inked stones. Due to its size, the work was printed on three sheets of paper. The nuanced tone of dance partner Valentin le Désossé (The Boneless), the figure in the foreground, was achieved through an inventive spatter technique. The silhouetted onlookers include the artist’s cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran, dancer Jane Avril, artist William Warrener, and others. A unique trial proof in black and white (with the essential design) and an extremely rare version of the poster (before final lettering) are presented here. Comparing the images shows Toulouse-Lautrec’s inventive use of color and design to highlight the dizzying atmosphere of the cabaret and to accentuate the hair and dress of La Goulue. The performer’s most alluring traits (her risqué style and notorious legs) are emphasized in a larger-than-life-size work that secured her celebrity and brought Toulouse-Lautrec fame.

This poster stunned the public when it premiered in some 3,000 impressions throughout Paris. Artist Francis Jourdain recalled, “the shock…. This highly original poster, was, I remembered, carried along the Avenue de l’Opera on a kind of small cart, and I was so enchanted that I walked alongside it.” Critic Félix Fénéon declared posters to be “real art, by God! and it cries out, it’s part of life itself, it’s art that doesn’t fool around and real guys can get it.”

Performers of the Belle Époque: Jane Avril

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.

Jane Avril 1893_three versions_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1893. Brush and spatter lithograph. Key stone printed in olive green on wove paper. Unrecorded trial proof, 47 5⁄8 × 34 5⁄8 in. Private collection; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1893. Brush and spatter lithograph, key stone printed in olive green on wove paper. Trial proof, 47 9⁄16 × 33 7⁄8 in. Private collection; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1893. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in yellow, orange, red, and black on wove paper, 48 13⁄16 × 36 in. Private collection

“I owe him the fame that I enjoyed, dating from his first poster of me.” —Jane Avril

Toulouse-Lautrec’s inventive posters established the star status of Jane Avril. In 1893 critic Arsène Alexandre described their collaboration: “Painter and model together have created a true art of our time: one through movement, one through representation.” These works mark the dancer’s debut at the Jardin de Paris on the Champs Élysées, commissioned by the upscale café-concert at Avril’s request. A publicity photograph by Paul Sescau of Avril may have been an inspiration, which Toulouse-Lautrec reinterpreted in an oil sketch. For the final poster, he modified Avril’s expression, tightened her chahut dance pose, and incorporated a decorative frame that shoots from the upright double bass to connect the orchestra in the foreground with the performer on stage. The motif was influenced by Edgar Degas’s painting The Orchestra at the Opera, which Toulouse-Lautrec held in high regard.

This exhibition offers the remarkable opportunity to compare an unrecorded trial proof (without text or color) with a later proof (with floorboards of the stage) and a bold, final poster (with dramatic color and subtle spatter), demonstrating the evolution of this complex print. What do you notice first about the progression? Does anything surprise you?

Congratulations! Toulouse-Lautrec Poster Contest Winners

Our judges were blown away by the quality and variety of submissions to our Toulouse-Lautrec poster contest! We asked participants to show us what the belle époque of today is in a modern-day poster, using Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque as inspiration. Without further ado: here are the winners! Thanks to everyone who submitted. These five posters, along with a selection of staff favorites, will be on view at Phillips after 5 on April 6.


Grand Prize Winning submission by Carolyn Wright

“As an untrained artist who really only went to school to learn how to teach others about words and stories, any foray into art is an experiment for me. Toulouse-Lautrec’s work is as accessible for me as it was for Paris.  Like Toulouse-Lautrec, I’m drawn most to capturing people: their expressions and their reactions to the world around them, showcasing movement and joy when I can. I love to showcase the resilience and talent of youth the most, probably because the majority of my day is spent convincing children that their potential is infinite and their skills extraordinary. I used cut paper and brush tip pens to put a modern spin on Toulouse-Lautrec’s signature style.”

Feigenbaum.Sam_La Marche Des Femmes

Honorable Mention: Sam Feigenbaum

“What I’ve always loved about Toulouse-Lautrec was his deeply humanizing affectation towards the private lives of the women close to him. All over Europe, artists of great renown are painting women as high-class objects of desire, and here is Toulouse-Lautrec: painting low-class objects of desire as women. And while his lithographs are more conservative than his paintings, what I see Toulouse-Lautrec drawn to today is a curiosity with what the most resilient women in his life would’ve been drawn to. So I made a poster, with deference to the greatly talented artist, of a women’s march movement in his style.”


Honorable Mention: Victoria Chao

“Paying homage to the whimsy of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters’ typography and the drama of his subjects’ clothing, this piece envisions the belle époque of today as a social media fueled era of experience-seeking over material-possessing. A musician stands onstage surrounded by a sea of flashing smartphones, posed similarly as Toulouse-Lautrec did in many of his posters—slightly off-center with movement in both the foreground and background, but with the focus always on the colorful subject.”

Venne.Daniel_Lautrec Poster

Honorable Mention: Daniel Venne

“This poster design is an update of Toulouse-Lautrec’s images of dance halls and night-time gathering spots. Rather than a depiction of a specific nightclub, this is for the ‘bar crawls’ that partiers enjoy—specifically one that might take place in Dupont, home of The Phillips Collection. The young woman’s head-wrap is a nod to the scarf worn by the performer Aristide Bruant in Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters. Although today’s nightclubs are less likely to have a real star appear, the two partiers in the background seem to see themselves as stars—taking a selfie.”

Breighner.Steve_Apres 5 v1

Honorable Mention: Stephen Breighner

HONORABLE MENTION: Stephen Breighner
“[My poster is done in the loose style] that was Toulouse-Lautrec’s style; vague in some respects yet tight in others, especially the women, great lines, great  impressions amidst unusually odd-colored backgrounds, such as  greenish-yellow or yellow. I wonder if it represented the atmosphere he felt in places such as the Moulin Rouge or was more to do with an absinthe-induced haze, or both. Heavy contrast as well. My entry depicts a young woman on her way into the Apres Five at The Phillips Collection with the date of the April edition.”