Cabaret Culture and the Final Years

Lautrec enjoyed the stage in all its forms and from the 1890s the theatre became a particular obsession. He frequented performances at the ComédieFrançaise, ThéâtreLibre and Théâtre de l’Oeuvre for the atmosphere rather than the plays themselves. He was captivated by the artificial lighting and the spectacle of the audience: the theatre as a grand tableaux of human activity.

For this same reason Lautrec was enchanted by the circus. Like a number of his contemporaries, he skilfully captured the energy and strength of its performers. The critic Félix Fénéon radically proclaimed that the circus wasan art form to rival painting: a social phenomenon that revealed somethingof the true French character to Parisians and tourists alike.

During his final years Lautrec returned to his favourite themes: the cafés,the brasseries and the masked balls. These were all subjects that capturedthe vivacity and excitement of Paris.

Lautrec’s career is characterised by a move from dark, academic paintingto the pure, bright colour palette of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Moving beyond these influences, Lautrec’s passion for Japanese woodcut prints informed his revolutionary poster designs. His later works are executed in stunning patchworks of rich colours, applied with sketchy brushwork and sophisticated washes. Lautrec’s final paintings are compositions of great verve.

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