Toulouse-Lautrec paints an intriguing picture

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The largest exhibition in China about the life and art of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is ongoing at the Aurora Museum in Shanghai.

Titled Ethereal Life in Paris: A World Tour Exhibition With Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the exhibition features the most comprehensive collection of artifacts related to the artist, including nearly 120 sets of artworks and more than 230 precious objects, from lithographs to poster designs and sketch drawings.

Though he lived for just 37 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created about 737 oil paintings, 275 watercolors, 368 prints and posters, and 5,084 sketch manuscripts.

"Art was the career he devoted himself to, and an important source of the meaning and value of his life. Thanks to painting, he changed from a depressed and disabled nobleman to a mirror of the times, an observer and recorder of life, and an innovator of art and design," says Wang Jia, an art historian and honorary curator of the Liechtenstein National Museum, who provided academic support for the exhibition in Shanghai.

The French artist was born in an aristocratic family and had as a teenager suffered from two accidents that resulted in his legs being atrophied. He later devoted much of his time and efforts to art. He frequented entertainment venues featuring the pop culture of Paris and recorded the nontraditional aspects of rapidly changing urban life, from bars and opera houses to horse and bicycle races to singers, actors, prostitutes and even clowns.

The artist presented such a vivid picture of the splendid nightlife in Montmartre, a Paris district, that he was eventually dubbed its "soul".

When he was alive, lithography became the medium of choice for printing larger and more colorful and exquisite works. The artist adopted the new art form to create posters for fashion and entertainment in Paris and rose to fame with a poster designed for the Moulin Rouge, a legendary entertainment venue.

Through a limestone plate, video projection, as well as a hands-on experience at the exhibition, visitors can learn more about lithography, which is the process of printing from the plain surface of a limestone or metal plate on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent.

Inspired by the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, he went on to create his own unique style that was defined by bright and bold color contrasts, unconventional composition, fast and expressive contour lines, dark silhouettes and simple figure shapes that highlighted the essential features.

During his career, he created a large number of commercial commissions, including posters, book covers and illustrations, stage decor design, and music album covers.

But whatever the subject, the main character of the work was always either a friend he knew well or his favorite singer and actor, says Liu Dejiang, a member of the curatorial team.

For example, some of the portrayed figures were renowned artists such as Aristide Bruant and Yvette Guilbert, both of whom were close friends of Toulouse-Lautrec.

"The human being was always the theme of his fascination," Liu says.

The exhibition runs through April 7.

If you go

Ethereal Life in Paris: A World Tour Exhibition With Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Dec 24-April 7

Aurora Museum, No 99 Fucheng Road, Lujiazui, Pudong district, Shanghai.


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