Category Archives: Week 8

Toulouse-Lautrec and captured vibrancy of Parisian nightlife


by Shalina Chatlani, Zhihui Yu, and Jing Chen

In 1882, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec moved from Albi to Paris, where he became completely enthralled with the vibrancy and free-spirited nature of the city’s cafes, streets, cabarets, and nightlife. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Lautrec, like artists from all over world, went to also in part because the city had become the art center of the world. He arrived to one of Paris’s golden age, and his career “ coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of nightlife culture” (Colta,1996). He became fascinated with the modern printmaking industry, which French painters had begun to observe as early as the 1790s, when the chemical  principles of lithography were discovered and it was turned into fine art (Ittmann, P. 11). Lithography became one of the more popular mediums for most painters of any note. With the development of lithography technology, deluxe color printing projects entered the market. Lautrec took great advantage of this new medium to capture the beauty of the Parisian lifestyle, and he became the best poster artist of Paris. Lautrec tapped into the city’s character, where grand boulevards and palaces of commercial entertainment went hand in hand with the ‘zone’, a vast shanty town ringing the city that was occupied by workers and those living a more precarious life. (Edwards & Wood 2013,P29)  Immersed in the urban life, Lautrec spontaneously captured the nature of the city and the people in it.

Lautrec also managed to incorporate international influences into his lithographic posters, which succeeded in adding a unique flair to depictions of Parisian scenes. For example, in the late 1850s, Japanese woodcuts began to seep into European ports. The Japanese prints exerted considerable influence on Impressionist painters in France. The style and content of Lautrec’s posters were heavily influenced by these Japanese ukiyo-e prints. The ukiyo-e, that is, the ‘fleeting’ or ‘floating world’ they depicted, was eminently comparable to that which the Parisian avant-garde were striving to represent. Theatres, the street, nightlife, including places of sexual encounter, as well as music and dancing–these constituted what became known as the ‘floating world’ in Edo (Edwards & Wood 2013,P70). Lautrec tapped into this style and noted that the promotion of individual performers is very similar to the depictions of famous actors, actresses, and courtesans from the “floating world”of Edo-period in Japan(Colta,1996). His ability to capture some of the raw scenes of Paris at night and incorporate unique elements and influences is apparent throughout majority of his artwork, for instance at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.


For example, the poster above, La Troupe De Mlle Eglantine, was one of the pieces at the Phillips Collection. Lautrec’s identity as a post-impressionist painter can be seen through the bold brush strokes and vivid color composition. He, like on of the four main artists —Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne —  tried to break free from the Impressionism movement in the late 1880s and provide for the observer a window into the heart and soul of the artist, rather than offer some sort of objective view on the world at large. This artwork above of the four most famous dancers in Paris’s Moulin Rouge cabaret is free rendering of what Lautrec saw and felt while he was observing the women, rather than some sort of literal window into the world. Like in the artwork of his contemporaries, he sought to capture the vibrancy and emotion of Parisian lifestyle through symbolic mixing of bold colors and abstract shapes, which could depict memories and real human interaction with the environment–not just a flat rendition of what the artist physically saw, but rather what the artist was feeling, observing, memorizing, and sensing.

In terms of his international focus-from what we can see from Lautrec’s work, most we can see from the exhibition are his posters, like we mentioned before, the style and content of Lautrec’s posters were heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and we can see many of the characters and casts in his posters depicted Japanese women. Just like the one that impressed us a lot, Cover for L’Estampe Originale. From this Japanese woman he depicted in this poster, we can see how Lautrec’s work emphasized on the use of color. And beyond its promotion and printmaking functions, the man behind that women who working on the poster also caught our eyes. He was the one worked behind the scenes and had a purely technical role in print production. This poster emphasizes the importance of those figures who working behind the scenes by showing the expert printer Père Cotelle of Edouard Ancourt’s in his workshop with the Parisian cabaret star Jane Avril admiring the product of his effort.

His artwork fits in perfectly with the other work in the museum. We could see his transition and post-impressionist identity by comparing his work work with that of other artists throughout the collection. For example we saw Luncheon of the Boating Party by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir and some paintings of American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s paintings in Rothko Room designed by Duncan Philips in 1960. “It’s like a painting about the most perfect meal that ever was—but you can’t tell what most of it was,” says Phillips Collection Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone.

Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir, seen at Phillips Collection

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir, seen at Phillips Collection

Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts a group of friends hanging out and relaxing in a balcony, people in this painting are all in comforting and calming posts, while what impressed me most was the vividness and ethereality that comes from the painting which formed sharp contrast with these still lives portrayed in the painting. A sense of movement is realized through the actions and expression of the cast. Facial expressions of these main characters in the painting are so clear and lively. There is a great deal of light throughout the composition of Luncheon of the Boating Party. The main light source is the opening in the balcony and the beaming sunlight is reflected by the table cloth and the vests of the two men in the foreground. And from the glasses on the table as well, we can see how great the painter capture the momentary effects of changing light and color. Similarly Lautrec’s bold colors come through in his depictions of Parisian nightlife; however, like a true post-impressionist artist, he moves away from the standard shapes and observations within a painting like that of Renoir and instead utilizes abstract shapes and symbols to capture a sense of dynamism, not static existence in Parisian life. 

Mark Rothko, as an abstract expressionist and contemporary artist, represents a movement after Lautrec’s time, but another iteration of the post-impressionist style that he was apart of. Lautrec broke free from the chains of dull observation like his contemporaries, and the trend continued forth as artists like Rothko depicted, rather than just scenes, colors and shapes to evoke emotion.

Zhihui, for example, reacts to walking into a Rothko room, where the deep color patterns appealed to her sense of imagination:


The intimate Rothko room holds four paintings by Mark Rothko, and reflects the artist’s preference for exhibiting his art “in a scale of normal living”. To be honest, I cannot appreciate and even cannot understand these pieces of art, and cannot figure out what exactly the artiest want to express. But when you took a deep breath and looked into these “non-sense” paintings, you felt peaceful and pleasure, you suddenly wanted to just simply sit there and enjoy the magical feelings these colors bring you. “My paintings’ surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions. Between these two poles, you can find everything I want to say.” Colors can spark imagination, and purity can be represented as possibility.

Works Referenced:

Photo at top:

Second photo: Lautrec Foundation


Others seen at Phillips Collection.

Steve Edwards and Paul Wood, eds. Art & Visual Culture, 1850-2010: Modernity to Globalization. London: Tate Publishing and The Open University, 2013

John Ittmann, Post-Impressionist Prints: Paris in the 1890s. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997.

Colta Feller Ives and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Toulouse-Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

For background on post-impressionism:

Production Process and Artistic Networks – Yingxin and Ojas

Artworld as a network system, connecting the audience, artwork and the artists
The interaction experience at the interface: coloring the painting.

When getting upstairs in the Phillips Collection, my eyes were immediately caught by Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographic painting exhibition, since I felt as if I’ve ever seen the similar style of paintings or decorations for the book covers, paper cutting and movie posters, especially when in my childhood. The lithography art has become an iconic art form since the 18th century, and has been widely spread and applied to various fields for the use of art, economy and entertainment. The symbolic value with vivid reflection of the time have made this art and technology everlasting and popular even in nowadays – from high arts to pop arts, more and more people are able to see and enjoy the lithographic posters. Additionally, from these lithographic artworks, one could also see the remix of art forms around the world, for instance, the Japanese ukiyo-e prints.

Henri de Toulouse-Loutrec, Divan Japonais

Divan Japonais

Before coming to the exhibition, I’ve never been so close to the lithography and printmaking process though I’m familiar with the style of book covers and posters. The key stone which captures the whole image, is a crucial foundation of the painting and printmaking. Different colors can be incorporated before putting the paper and dipped brushes onto the stone during the lithographic printmaking. In this way, the foundation of image can be reused to print multifarious posters capturing various situations of the same image, and even make a fascinating combination along with them. Most interestingly, certain versions of the lithographic paintings with different colors are put together on the same wall so that people can easily make a visual comparison, thus appreciating the artworks with individual understandings.

Jane Avril

Jane Avril

Moreover, the artworld as a network system, connects the audience, artwork and the artists. Therefore, how to get the audience involved into the artwork and so as to enhance the understandings and increase the interactions, is becoming more demanding for the curators. I was relatively impressed by one of the interactive sections in the exhibition – the coloring games. Since people are more likely to notice the different coloring of the lithography paintings, the curator has set up a space for people to color Lautrec’s classical paintings with color pens in hand, so that it’s just like a hand-on simulation of the process of lithography printmaking, where paper with only black and white image serves as the key stone, while coloring is like creating a poster. In this interactive section, the audience will get more experience in the preliminary lithography printmaking as well as enjoy the exhibition along the way.


Consider the following song and subsequent Youtube comment:


Yvette Guilbert was a popular singer/performer in Montmarte at Moulin Rouge and the subject of many Toulouse-Lautrec pieces. The comment is the first comment in the comments section under this video. Also notice the highlighted thumbs up indicating that I liked the comment. That’s because Henri de Toulouse-Loutrec brought me there too. While we’re not focusing explicitly on how museums fit into the digital networks of cultural knowledge, I think the confluence represented by the above scenario speaks volumes about how museums interface to cultural knowledge. nafsika pappa and I shared a common cultural experience, and traveled a similar path to that cultural experience. Not only did our museum exhibit interface to the art world and cultural production, but the cultural world in which he existed. Toulouse-Lautrec brought me to a fascinating moment in history, namely the peak of late 19th century Parisian nightlife in Montmarte. And this is because his prints played a notable role in the creation of this culture, which is why his art and name hold such gravity in the Artworld even today. Though Bourdieu’s treatment of art in relational thinking deals with a network of artists and actors in the art networks that reinforce art as an institution, I’d like to expand this to the cultures that artists live in, as much of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work is inextricable from the cultural world of Montmarte. His position in the representation, circulation, popularization of performance productions in that era is reinforced even today by my deep dive into French cabaret.

In Dr. Irvine’s treatment of Remix, he argues that recursion is an important tenant of dialogism (along with combinatorial generativity). Though Toulouse-Lautrec interfaces to a fascinating, artistically fruitful era of history, who is Toulouse-Lautrec now? One answer lies in the following image:

Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants

Squidward is a self-absorbed, mediocre “tortured artist” type. Throughout the show, he tries bringing culture to bikini bottom through a talent show, he tries to start a marching band to play the bubble bowl, and generally elevates himself above the work-minded, fun-loving interests of his neighbors, Spongebob and Patrick. In the episode from which the above image comes from, Squidward pretends to be a ghost after Spongebob and Patrick mistakenly think they killed him (in fact, they just destroyed a wax sculpture of him). Spongebob and Patrick must fulfill the biddings of Squidward, and part of that is finding a comfortable spot to settle. In each spot they propose, Squidward says “too hot,” and then “too dry,” and then when they reach the above spot, he says “too-louse-Lautrec.” Even for Squidward, perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec might be a bit stuffy? Might be too high art? The best way to consider this is in the scope of who the audience of Spongebob Squarepants would be. I would say cartoons fall under the category of abject media, meaning it is generally looked down on (among video games and cheap romance novels). This shot at Toulouse-Lautrec represents a dialogic model in which cartoons are trying to gain recognition, a model in which Toulouse-Lautrec already holds significant recognition. Also love the remix of La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine:

La Troupe de Mlle Eglantine, 1896 Chalk lithograph with brush and spatter, in three colours, 61,7 x 80,4 cm

La Troupe de Mlle Eglantine, 1896 Chalk lithograph with brush and spatter, in three colours, 61,7 x 80,4 cm

1. The exhibition introduction on the website of the Phillips Collection:
2. Bourdieu, Pierre. Introduction to The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1992. Excerpt, pp.29-40.
3. Irvine, Introduction to the Artworld Network System and the Institutional Theory of Art
4. Irvine, Marin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”
In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Toulouse-Lautrec: CC/CG

Collier Carson and Carley Gramson

Toulouse-Lautrec’s artistic career revolutionized the trajectory of Modernism in the 20th century. His influence on European (and later American) cultural values and had an aesthetic as well as a technological component. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Lautrec was distinctly modern in that he portrayed the exciting nightlife of the new Parisian bourgeois culture — “the spirit of the belle époque, a time of vitality and decadence in France” — and forewent verisimilitude in order to create a sense of environment and give his works a sort of thrilling energy. However, what made Lautrec’s contributions to 20th century Modernist especially unique and influential was the technological. Lautrec’s technological developments and innovations in lithography allowed him to produce art on a different scale than previously possible and to conceptualize art as a cultural product that could be disseminated on such a mass scale. Lautrec made lithography and printmaking into an artistic project that was of equal importance with painting; he lifted advertisement and poster-making from the purely commercial and kitschy to the avant-garde.

img_1142As Professor Irvine discusses in The Artworld as a Network System and the Institutional Theory of Art what constitutes “art” is constantly in a state of redefinition and flux. Lautrec radically reorganized the “Artworld”, not only through his aesthetic and compositional novelties, but through the possibilities that emerged when lithography and printmaking became a node within the “artworld network”. Given that the 20th century globally would be defined by capitalism, mass-production consumer culture, and advertisements, and given that the 20th century artworld would be defined by a shift from the museum to the commercial gallery, Lautrec was ahead of his time and very much helped to usher in the 20th century of “art”.


How Toulouse-Lautrec utilized lithography is very much tied into the field of semiotics. Before the artwork is even created it goes through multiple interfaces- from the stone to the canvas. Lautrec would have to sketch an inverse copy of his idea onto the stone and then transfer it onto the different sheets of canvas. One very interesting aspect of the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the Phillips Collection was being able to see these separate layers next to each other. Does the meaning of these prints change with each layer of color added? How do the ‘mass produced’ prints take away from- or add to the intentions behind the print?




Irvine,Introduction to the Artworld Network System and the Institutional Theory of Art

Toulouse-Lautrec: La Belle Époque

 By: Jordan Levy, Wanyu Zhang, & Yinying Chen

“A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.”

 -Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Toulouse- Lautrec’s time was special; it was the “Belle Époque”–the ‘Golden Age’ of Paris. As Walter Benjamin put it, “Paris [was] the capital of the nineteenth century” (Edwards & Wood 2012, 39). The renovation of Paris by Haussmann, the commodification, the new social classes, the individuals who came from diverse sociocultural backgrounds, and the evolving social relations transformed Paris into “the extraordinary cocktail of the modernity”( Edwards & Wood 2012, 51). The rise of the vitality of the bourgeoisie enriched and diversified the cultural landscape within the city. Conversely, this was also the time when modern printmaking burst onto the art scene, revolutionizing commercial cultures and providing artists with new ways to produce and disseminate their works to the public masses.

Unlike the formalists who valued the autonomy of art and emphasized their belief that art should be separated from everyday life, Toulouse-Lautrec’s works were designed to be immersive in nature and to create dialogues with the experiences, scenarios, and daily lives of their viewers (Edwards & Wood 2012, 25). In this regard,  his works were a medium to “fix the unrecognized modern beauty,” as Edwards and Woods(2012) illustrate (48). Therefore, Toulouse-Lautrec’s works often depicted commercial culture, which was exactly what the New York School tried to escape from. With the advent of modern lithography, new dichotomies of expressional form were made possible; Toulouse- Lautrec’s posters are art as well as advertisements. As the interface for commercial purpose, Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters often encapsulate the voluptuous life of the bourgeoisie, with prostitutes and dancehall performers as the featured characters in his art. Despite his often caricature-ized subjects, his posters are elevated to the realm of high art (Michael 2000). In this sense, as an artist, through his works, Toulouse-Lautrec bridged high and low cultures, while facilitating interchange between different social classes.  

In addition, with the advent of new bourgeoisie and modernity, the cultural discourse which was originally dominated by the representational convention of Rome and European Renaissance civilization, Toulouse- Lautrec and his contemporaries desired to part with some of the “orthodox works of the past” by establishing a different artistic norms (Bourdieu & Johnson 1993, 31). Paris was a fertile ground for such new convention to grow and prosper due to its cosmopolitan culture and its world-facing nature of modernity (Edwards & Wood 2012, 65). This is where the Oriental, particularly Japan, a country which adopted a national isolation policy for more than 200 years and was forced to re-open itself in 1866 by the Americans, came into play. From the mid 18th century, Japonisme swept Europe and influenced the ‘artworld’ in Europe by offering a new “pictorial language” and by “widening the culture horizons” for the Impressionist as well as for Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters (Edwards & Wood 2012, 56 & 65). The flatness, the unmodulated areas of color, and the juxtapositions of foreground and background in Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters reflect the distinguishing characteristic of Japanese woodblock prints (Edwards & Wood 2012, 53). Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters capture the pulse of city as well as the new artistic language of its time, and when viewing his works, viewers do feel as if “the worldness of the modernity leaks through” (Edwards & Wood 2012, 65).  

In many ways, Toulouse-Lautrec was, himself, an interface to modernism. Modernism pushed the cultural norms for depictions of color contrast, texture, and value (Frascina et. al. 1982, 6). The technique of lithography made adding many colors to a work difficult when compared to classical artists simply painting colors of their choosing onto their canvas. Lautrec’s posters were created by layering several different plates of individual colors over each other until the final version of the poster was complete with every desired color (Phillip’s Collection lithography video). As such, the colors on the final posters appear very uniform and flat. This technique was cumbersome, but served to add to the uniqueness of each poster, as the possibility for slightly differing colors per plate produced posters that were not identical. In addition, the Phillip’s Collection had the unique opportunity to display partially-finished, or alternately-colored versions of famous Lautrec posters. Because the technique of lithography was novel during Lautrec’s productive artistic period, he was able to pave the way for a high standard of artistic lithography for future artists.


Similar to the flatness of the printed colors, Lautrec’s posters also portray a flatness of space. The posters lack an accurate depiction of three-dimensional space so they appear singularly-planned. This flatness is in keeping with the modernism movement, as modernism has “abandoned the representation of the kind of space that recognizable, three-dimensional objects can inhabit” (Frascina et. al. 1982, 6). This ‘flat’ style is also reminiscent of the Japanese style of painting (Edwards & Wood 2012, 53). Because Lautrec’s posters share a stylistic aesthetic with Japanese art (as compared on many labels within the Phillip’s Collection exhibit), Lautrec’s modernism “develops out of the past” (Frascina et. al. 1982). The idea that modernism is entirely revolutionary and unaffected by works of art preceding its period is an inaccurate representation of the period’s stylistic influences. “Every old Master has had his own modernity” (Frascina et. al. 1982, 24). Modernism is at its core, very ephemeral and fleeting (Frascina et. al. 1982, 23). While some may believe that the ‘flatness’ Lautrec’s posters are well known for is an original, modern style, it is actually a continuation of the Japanese aesthetic, reinforcing the notion that modernism is never truly modern or lasting.

One aspect of Toulouse-Lautrec’s body of work that was truly modern for his time was the placement and purpose of his art. Many of Lautrec’s pieces were intended to be viewed as outdoor advertisements for nightlife establishments or vocal/dance performances. As such, the posters were large in size, printed on a thick paper (instead of the more traditional choice of canvas), and often frameless (during their time. Today, Lautrec’s art is displayed in frames coinciding with the period of modernism). The open-air exhibition of Lautrec’s posters meant that his art was exposed to a variety of social classes; the public placement meant that people of high and low cultures alike could enjoy them equally. But what serves to separate Lautrec’s works from today’s modern advertisements? Should we consider the McDonald’s poster along the highway as art as well? This dilemma is solved by the establishment of the ‘artworld’ as a whole. Modern works cannot be “seen as art without the introduction of the notion of [an] ‘artworld,’ which, in turn, requires “an atmosphere of artistic theory [and] a knowledge of the history of art” (Hans van Maanen 2009, 18-19). We can appreciate Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters today due to the rich history and knowledge of the ‘artworld.’

One result from the creation and acceptance of the ‘artworld’ is valuation of modern works. Because the ‘artworld’ is widely accepted and appreciated, works of art are assigned monetary values far beyond the cumulation of the prices of materials required for completion (Bourdieu & Nice 1980). For instance, a print by Toulouse-Lautrec can be found listed for $35,000-45,000 at auction today ( Modern works of art such as Lautrec’s posters are economically valued at such high prices because of their cultural capital. Individuals familiar with the ‘artworld’ can use their knowledge about artists to covet their pieces, driving prices higher and higher. As such, the artist is the individual who originally gives their piece value (economic or otherwise), but it is individuals operating within the ‘artworld’ (such as dealers, collectors, curators, auctioneers, etc.) who continually raise and reassign that original value (Bourdieu & Nice 1980). Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters are a prime example of the ever-changing valuation, economic or cultural, associated with artworks made familiar by the existence of the ‘artworld.’



  1. Bourdieu, Pierre, 1930-2002, and Randal Johnson 1948. 1993. The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
  2. Bourdieu, Pierre, and Richard Nice. 1980. The production of belief: Contribution to an economy of symbolic goods. Media, Culture & Society 2 (3): 261-93.
  3. Edwards, Steve, Paul Wood, and John Forsgren Fund. 2012. Art & visual culture, 1850-2010: Modernity to globalisation. Milton Keynes, United Kingdom;London;: Tate Publishing.
  4. Frascina, Francis, Charles Harrison 1942, and Deirdre Paul. 1982. Modern art and modernism: A critical anthology. New York: Harper & Row.
  5. Michael, Cora. “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (May 2010)
  6. Phillip’s Collection Lithography video
  7. “Poster Auctions International.” Artnet. Accessed March 11, 2017.
  8. Van Maanen, Hans, Inc ebrary, and ProQuest (Firm). 2009. How to study art worlds: On the societal functioning of aesthetic values. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  9. All images from class trip credited to Wanyu Zhang