The Human Comedy - About the exhibition
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicted people and modern city living of the late 19th century, particularly as it was played out at the Parisian entertainment venues. The exhibition presented a sharply focused image of an artist whose depictions of the Parisian entertainment scene dissected and commented on modern existence by means of striking and groundbreaking effects.
The comedy’s stage, scenery and stars
Over the course of an intense period spanning around fifteen years Lautrec let himself become fascinated with and engulfed by city life, particularly on the Montmartre scene. In his works he would stage representations of the various types he came across: The lecherous bourgeois gentleman, the flaneur, the bohemian, the prostitute, the pimp, and many more. These were types associated with modern urban life, with the emerging culture of consumption, and the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure and gratification.
Exaggerated and caricatured features
In his renditions of urban types and the range of characters acting out their parts on the Parisian entertainment scenes Lautrec would simplify and exaggerate their features and facial expressions, highlighting their theatrical personas and archetypal traits.
Humorous distance and a sensitive insight
The exaggeration often adds aspects of humour and irony to the works, but also generates tension between distance and intimacy. The characters are exaggerated, yet also possess a sensibility and sensitivity that reflects Lautrec’s insight into the world he described.
We focused on the graphic works
The exhibition focused its attention on Lautrec’s work within graphic media, including his groundbreaking posters. Lautrec did not attribute greater artistic value to painting compared to graphic art, even though the latter occupied a lower ranking within the overall hierarchy of the arts at the time. Quite the contrary: It would seem that his experiments within graphic arts had a knock-on effect on his painting.
High culture and popular culture - Lautrec was both
His graphic work is also distinctive in another sense. Through his work with illustrations and advertisements Lautrec abolished the boundaries between popular and highbrow culture. This places him among those early avant-garde artists who reached beyond the boundaries traditionally accepted by the arts.