Toulouse Lautrec and the Art Nouveau Poster

His contemporaries spoke of 'an artist conquering the streets of Paris' and it is easy to see why.

Article by Matt Taylor | 14 Aug 2006

This year the Council is getting in on the festival burlesque act with the City Art Centre's Toulouse Lautrec and the Art Nouveau Poster. This impressive show features over 120 posters from Paris and across Europe at the turn of last century and breathes a little bohemian life into this often drab space.

Lautrec's famous 1881 poster for the Moulin Rouge is here alongside work by other luminaries such as Alphonse Mucha and Jules Chéret. Chéret's theatrical work for popular Parisian cabarets opens the show and he is credited with making the poster lithograph a legitimate art medium. His integration of text and spectacular use of colour and perspective led to the Postermania movement of the 1880s and helped to uphold the famously louche values of Montmartre.

Here those ideals are as vivid as ever, from the titillating costumes of the Moulin de la Galette, to the theatrics of Sarah Bernhardt, via nights out at L'Hippodrome, the Frascati and the Folies Berg're. The poster business was competitive and the result is clear to see with primary colours, edgy fonts and provocative imagery combining with a fine sense of the more rarefied salon elements of Romanticism, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts.

Lautrec, for whom the show is named, is the exemplar of this. His contemporaries spoke of 'an artist conquering the streets of Paris' and it is easy to see why. Inspired by Japanese woodcuts Lautrec's work features a bold use of line around flat expansive colour. His dynamic, unexpected viewpoints enliven his work as he plays with the form and size of his posters.

Of Lautrec's 28 posters, 15 are on display here, leaving ample room to show how those who followed were influenced by him and innovated further. The folk art influence on Belgian poster artists and the influence of William Morris on the Catalonian group are just two such examples. This show is a must-see for anyone working in print advertising or design, fans of Art Nouveau, or those just seeking a slice of fin de siecle Paris this summer.

Toulouse Lautrec and the Art Nouveau Poster. City Art Centre. 29th July Ð 22nd October.
Entry £5 (includes entry to Albert Watson & Anne Redpath) Catalogue available £16.95