Despite his aristocratic background, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec felt most comfortable in the company of the demimonde of fin-de-siècle Paris, where individuals outside the norm (youthful riding accidents left him deformed) could blend in and be accepted. In return, he immortalized the spirit of bohemian Montmartre, from the cabarets to the brothels, in painting and graphic arts that are as fresh and inventive today as when they were made.
His influential lithography is the subject of “Toulouse-Lautrec & Friends,” at the High Museum of Art through May 1. Lautrec’s wide-ranging skills, which encompass bold advertising posters and intimate fine-art prints, are evident in the 88 works in this delightful exposition, a gift, one of the museum’s largest and most significant, from Atlanta collectors Irene and Howard Stein.
As I wrote in my AJC review, Toulouse-Lautrec instinctively understood the basics of advertising — grab the viewer immediately and communicate in a flash — and he made an art of it. He pioneered streamlined designs characterized by planes of flat bright color contrasted with the black outlines, the use of silhouettes and unexpected dynamic compositions.
His prints could be as delicate and subtle as the posters are bold and direct. The Stein gift includes the echt example: a pristine “Elles,” his celebrated portfolio of 12 prints observing life behind the scenes at a Paris brothel. (Example below.)
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