Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Montmartre Nightlife and Color Lithography

MONTMARTRE NIGHTLIFE AND COLOR LITHOGRAPHY The northern Parisian butte or hill of Montmartre remained rustic in character throughout the 19th century. By the 1880s and 90s, down-at-the-heel artists like the aristocrat-turned-bohemian Toulouse-Lautrec would rub shoulders with well-to-do businessmen and industrialists who had come to s’encanailler, or “slum it,” among the seedier elements in this tawdry, boisterous, commercial entertainment district. Toulouse-Lautrec frequented dance halls, bars, café-concerts (such as Les Ambassadeurs), and theaters, where he took feverish sketches of entertainers at work: cabaret singers, dancers (Jane Avril), and actresses (Marcelle Lender). Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated by the exaggerated gestures and dramatic effects produced by footlights on the performers’ faces and bodies. But his predilection for performers was also financially motivated. He was commissioned by nightclub and theater owners, singers, and actresses to produce prints, posters, illustrations, and other forms of advertisement for their shows. For almost a decade, Toulouse-Lautrec churned out a unique color lithograph every week to ten days—works that were striking in their bold colors and compositions and their decorative abstraction, inspired partly by the Japanese woodblock prints popular at the time. Lautrec’s imagery did much to contribute to Montmartre’s eventual world-famous reputation as a bohemian playground and to lithography’s acceptance as a fine-art medium.

  1. Aux Ambassadeurs

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901) Aux Ambassadeurs (At The Ambassadeurs Café-Concert), 1894 Color lithograph Gift o…

  2. Jane Avril

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901) Jane Avril, 1893 Lithograph Mrs. F.F. Prentiss Fund, 1953.242

  3. Le Petit Trottin

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901) Le Petit Trottin (The Dressmaker's Little Errand Girl), late 19th century Lithogra…

  4. Mlle. Marcelle Lender

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901) Mlle. Marcelle Lender, en buste (Bust of Miss Marcelle Lender), 1895–96 Color li…