Posters as Art

Lautrec is a pre-eminent artist in the history of poster design who transformed the status of poster to masterpiece. The sheer scale, bold colours and salacious themes of Lautrec’s posters led ThadéeNatanson – editor of the avant-garde journal La Revue blanche – to liken their impact to a ‘fist in the face’.

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue was Lautrec’s first and largest poster. When it appeared on the streets of Paris in 1891 his reputation as a major artist was established. Revolutionary pictorial devices, such as silhouetted figures, were inspired by the popular shadow theatre and the work of Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro. The sinuous lines, application of flat colourand beautiful patterning reveal Lautrec’s love of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Lautrec’s lithographic skill is evident in the remarkable assortment of methods he applied to his compositions. A gifted draughtsman, he would draw on stone or transfer paper with brushes, in liquid tusche or crayon. He often applied spattering in a combination of techniques that suited his own style of simplified forms and an emphasis on outline.

Despite the success of Lautrec’s posters his father – Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec – was infuriated that his son was applying his skill as an artist to what were, to all intents and purposes, advertisements for the underbelly of Paris – questionable venues inhabited by risque performers.

Image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue entering the Moulin Rouge [La Goulue entrant au Moulin Rouge] 1892
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Mrs David M. Levy