For those of us who would rather not receive our first glimpse of the Moulin Rouge from an overwrought musical, or catch our only whiff of absinthe from a techno-thumping lounge, we may take comfort in this: there's always Toulouse-Lautrec. The great chronicler of the Belle Époque in late 19th century France, he rubbed elbows with the rich milieu of artists, actors, and miscreants who inhabited the City of Light at that time, and drew them accordingly. And as it just so happens, a compendium of his posters and sketches is currently on display at the MOMA in New York City.
Although Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec felt at home amongst the starving artists and hardscrabble bohemians of Paris, his origins were anything but humble. The son of provincial aristocrats, he moved to the French capital while still young, and quickly developed an aptitude for drawing and painting. Those talents would flourish and grow into an artistic career once he discovered the ebullient nightlife of Montmartre. Although he had a private income of his own, his successful role as a maker of advertisements and posters for local businesses gave him the ability to support himself. The artwork he created for his various patrons did far more than earn him a few francs, however—it captured and immortalized one of the most seminal and colorful periods in art history.
To see the work of Toulouse-Lautrec for yourself and get a true taste of La Vie Bohème, just swing by the MOMA . . . but do be advised, it is BYOA (that's Bring Your Own Absinthe).
The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters
July 26, 2014–March 22, 2015 at the MOMA in New York City
All images courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art