Digital Commonwealth

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Prints and Drawings

Boston Public Library

or
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was a French painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Although he regularly exhibited paintings and drawings throughout his career, Lautrec is best known for his lithographs and especially his posters, which celebrate the cabarets and the performers active in the Montmartre district of Paris during the 1890s.

Born in Albi to an aristocratic family, Lautrec began drawing lessons at an early age. In 1882, he settled in Paris to pursue more formal study as an artist in the studios of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon. During the 1880s, he also made friends with a number of the members of the artistic avant-garde and began to participate in exhibitions sponsored by various artist groups, including Les XX, the Salon des Indépendants, and the Salon de la Libre Esthétique.

Lautrec also was inspired by European artists’ increasing knowledge of Japanese prints, which spurred the development of new techniques in color printmaking during the 1890s. In response to the growing demand for color images, Lautrec created his first poster for the newly established Moulin Rouge in 1891. Over the next decade, he produced images to advertise entertainments and businesses, and to illustrate books, music sheets, and playbills. Of particular note are his posters for the Moulin Rouge and for Artistide Bruant’s cabaret Le Mirliton as well as his posters advertising the performances of such well-known entertainers as Jane Avril, Yvette Guilbert, and May Belfort.

With a few exceptions, the Boston Public Library’s collection of works by Lautrec was assembled by Albert H. Wiggin and came to the library as part of the 1941 gift by Wiggin of his private collection of prints and drawings. Included are plates from the series Elles and the portfolio Yvette Guilbert. Through Wiggin’s generosity, the library also was able to acquire the pages from an early sketchbook of drawings thought to have been created when Lautrec was in his teens.