Walker – High Kicks and Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec prints


High Kicks and Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec prints
14 May – 8 August 2010

An exhibition of evocative prints that portray theatrical life and studies of daily life, including Lautrec’s very personal observations of the lives of prostitutes. The exhibition includes depictions of the dancer Jane Avril and the actress Sarah Bernhardt, as well as Lautrec’s iconic poster La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge.  A British Museum Tour.

An exquisite exhibition of around 50 prints by the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901),  will depict the glamour and style of 19th century Parisian theatre and daily life.

The Walker Art Gallery is the first destination for High Kicks and Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec Prints, a British Museum Tour, supported through the generosity of the Dorset Foundation.

Described by a contemporary critic as ‘the quintessential chronicler of Paris’, the work of Toulouse-Lautrec immediately evokes the decadent atmosphere of fin-de siècle Paris. Through his prolific graphic output of posters, theatre programmes, song-sheets, illustrated periodicals and special edition prints for the growing market of collectors, Lautrec effortlessly managed to combine the excitement of the cabaret and the unforgettable characters of the café-concert with the poignant, shadowy private lives of prostitutes and their clients.

Born in the south of France to an eccentric aristocratic family, Lautrec moved to Paris in 1882 to study art. One of his fellow pupils was Vincent van Gogh who greatly admired his work. Soon Lautrec established a studio in the notorious district of Montmartre, famed for its brothels, nightclubs and dancehalls and it was here that the artist would remain for the rest of his life. Lautrec eagerly embraced the lifestyle of a young bohemian artist of the Belle Epoque. By day he would haunt the galleries and museums and by night he frequented the dancehalls, the Moulin Rouge being his favourite and which he immortalized countless times in his work.

High Kicks and Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec Prints presents a selection from the British Museum’s fine holdings of Toulouse-Lautrec’s graphic work. Divided into two sections, Scenes from Theatrical Life and Scenes from Daily Life, the former presents striking images of the can-can dancer Louise Weber, known as La Goulue (‘The Glutton’) and Jane Avril, one of Lautrec’s favourite subjects. In contrast to the lively exuberant scenes of the cafés and bars of Montmartre, Lautrec portrays with great sensitivity the extremely private and intimate life of the prostitute in the second section of the exhibition. The artist lived briefly in several brothels and captured at first hand the daily rituals of feminine life, beautifully executed in the Elles portfolio of 1896.

Though Lautrec’s last years were plagued by alcoholic excess, this remarkable artist has left behind a body of work full of insight, wit and above all astonishing technical and artistic virtuosity.

Venue details

‘Divan Japonais’, 1893. Image by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
© The Trustees of the British Museum