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Beyond Belle Epoque: the innovative art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the most representative protagonists of the late-century Parisian environment. Palazzo Roverella, in the city of Rovigo (Italy), is the enchanting setting for the exhibition dedicated to him - from February 23 to June 30, 2024.

In the last two decades of the 19th century, Paris was one of Europe's main cultural centres, with an international community where realists, impressionists and symbolists shared experiences and moments of daily life in the gathering places of the time, bistros, department stores, cafes, and intellectual gatherings of all kinds, day and night. This complex mélange of styles and techniques of even very different artists contributed to the representation of Parisian society.

Cafés and cabarets acquired the same importance as the Comédie-Française or the Opéra, especially the famous Le Chat Noir in Montmartre, where the most avant-garde artists met and where it was possible to indulge in the 'artificial paradises' or the more carnal ones offered by the brothels. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was the symbol of this lively and libertarian atmosphere. His works include not only famous posters but also paintings, drawings and graphics - dialogue with the works of the numerous artists active in the same period and in the same circles, who often dealt with the same themes, rendering the liveliness of the Parisian art scene, full of fascinating suggestions and tangencies.

Going beyond the approach that so often reduces Toulouse-Lautrec to the mere activity of poster creator, this exhibition at Palazzo Rovella focuses on his work as a painter, with paintings and pastels from important American and European museums. 60 works by the artist, out of more than 200 total works, evoke the liveliness of the Parisian art scene.

The exhibition reconstructs the Parisian environment where the artist worked, comparing him with realists, impressionists, and symbolists with whom he shared experiences and moments of daily life. In addition to the famous Affiches, the artist’s paintings and preparatory drawings are juxtaposed in a dialectical relationship with the works of numerous artists active simultaneously in the same milieu, often addressing similar themes.

Le Moulin Rouge, 1891 - Toulouse-Lautrec's poster of the dancer, 'La Goulue', performing at the Moulin Rouge, is perhaps the most celebrated of all depictions of the famous French cabaret. La Goulue (The Glutton), was the stage name of one of the club's greatest stars, Louise Weber, seen here dancing with her partner, the man silhouetted against the foreground, Valentin le Désossé (Valentin the Boneless). According to legend, he danced 39,962 waltzes, 27,220 quadrilles, 14,966 polkas and mazurkas, and 1,000 lancers for a total of 83,112 performances on the stage of the Moulin Rouge. He never accepted money for his performances, dancing merely for the love of it. The abruptly cropped composition of this poster gives the viewer the impression of being one of the spectators in the crowd, drawn into the action of the dancehall.

Portrait d'Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret, 1892

Reine de Joie, 1892

Jane Avril, 1893 - Lautrec’s graphic posters—for performers, like Jane Avril, or dance halls, like the Moulin Rouge—embody the ebullient, frenetic spirit of the nightlife in fin-de-siècle Paris. Avril, a lifelong friend of the artist, commissioned this print to advertise her cabaret show at the Jardin de Paris in 1893. Lautrec’s bold composition is characterized by a radically skewed perspective, severe cropping, flattened forms, and sinuous lines—such as those describing Avril’s frilly costume. The “cancan” kick of Avril’s leg, one of her signature dance moves, finds a formal echo in the vertical thrust of the double-bass, gripped by an unseen musician. To create this print, Lautrec used several lithographic stones, one for each color—inky black, acidic orange, yellow, and green.

Confetti, 1894

Salon des Cent, Exposition Internationale d'affiches, 1895

L’Artisan ModerneDate: 1896

Salon des Cent: Exposition Internationale d'affiches, 1895

La Troupe de Mademoiselle Églantine, 1896

La Clownesse Assise, Mademoiselle Cha-U-Kao, 1896

A French artist among the major figures of post-impressionism, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was one of the most important transitional figures between impressionism and expressionism, one of the sharpest and most interesting draftsmen of his time, a frequenter of bohemian gatherings, café-chantants, and brothels. He was known for his cheerful spirit, his nights spent partying at the Moulin-Rouge, his assiduous frequentation of prostitutes... And yet, despite his short life - he died at 36 - his work is rich and abundant: he left us not less than 737 paintings, 275 watercolours, 369 lithographs and over 5,000 drawings!



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