Toulouse-Lautrec at the BPL

In Conservation, Digitization, Events, Exhibition, News

The BPL has an extensive collection of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec prints, many of which are currently on display at the MFA. Join us on May 23rd to learn about the behind-the-scenes preparations for this exhibition. (RSVP below.)

The Artist
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. Lautrec 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.

BPL's Collection
The Associates underwrote the digitization of the Boston Public Library's 360 Lautrec prints, making them freely available online. With a few exceptions, the collection was assembled by Albert H. Wiggin and donated to the BPL in 1941, including 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.

MFA Exhibition
The BPL loaned the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston over 100 prints for the groundbreaking exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. On display from April 7August 4, 2019, the exhibition explores the celebrity culture of 19th-century Paris and the artist’s fascination with the personal lives of les stars as well as the roles that they played. With expressive lines and brazen colors, Lautrec depicted the defining gestures, costumes, and expressions of spectacular performers, many of whom were his personal friends and habitués of Montmartre, the focus of Parisian nightlife and a haven for acrobatic dancers and destitute students, reprobate aristocrats and middle-class pleasure-seekers. The exhibition includes approximately 200 works and is composed of thematic sections highlighting Lautrec’s formal innovations, such as dramatic lighting effects and color combinations; the changing artistic and social landscapes of Paris, with scenes of the city by day and by night; cafés, cabarets, and theaters; and celebrities of the age. During the month of June, BPL cardholders will receive free admission to the Museum.

BPL Display
In addition to the extensive MFA exhibition, the BPL is currently hosting a monthly rotating display of original Lautrec posters in the BPL's Johnson Lobby. The display provides more information about Lautrec, his approach to designing vibrant posters, and the BPL’s significant collection of works by the artist. One side of the display is devoted to the conservation process that allows these posters to be preserved and enjoyed as research objects both now and in the future. This display was sponsored by the Associates.

Conservation Panel Discussion
In preparation for the MFA exhibition, nine fragile posters from the BPL's collection were sent to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in North Andover, Massachusetts for conservation and digitization. The Associates was pleased to co-sponsor this work with the MFA.

Curious to learn more about the conservation work? Join us for a free preservation panel discussion on Thursday, May 23, 2019. This critical work—which makes public access possible but is rarely publicized—relies on extensive collaboration among professionals in curation, preservation, conservation, imaging, and framing. BPL’s Preservation Manager Jessica Bitely will lead a conversation with NEDCC’s Assistant Paper Conservator Terra Huber and Senior Collections Photographer David Joyall. Together they'll explain the behind-the-scenes process to conserve and digitize these incredible posters and describe how some of the complicated collections care decisions were made. A reception will follow the discussion. The Associates is pleased to co-sponsor this lecture with the BPL.

The lecture takes place in the BPL's Abbey Room on Thursday, May 23rd at 6:00 PM. This is a free event. Seats are available on a first come first served basis on the night of the event, but please register so we can plan accordingly.