TOULOUSE-LAUTREC AND THE BELLE EPOQUE IN PARIS AND IN ATHENS
DECEMBER 6TH, 2007-OCTOBER 5TH, 2008)


At the center of this exhibition was a rare collection of approximately 100 original works on paper by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, which the organizers have placed in the historical, social, artistic, and aesthetic context of the time (1800 to the beginning of the 20th century). Furthermore, there has been an effort to approximate the prevailing historical and artistic conditions of urban Athens of the same era, with the goal of revealing the influence of the French Belle Epoque on the social and artistic life of Athens and to establish a number of obvious parallels.

The original works of Lautrec that are being exhibited (publicity posters, prints, and drawings) draw their inspiration from everyday life and entertainment. Advertisements for cabarets and periodicals, which are some of the best-known images of the great French artist, are shown next to portraits of famous actors and singers of the time, as well as sketches and caricatures. The works of Lautrec are accompanied by appropriate passages from French literature, photographs, and other objects, in order to help the viewer better understand the atmosphere of that time.

This parallel between the Belle Epoque in Paris and the corresponding one in Athens is drawn in order to present the apparent influence of the first on the second. The urban way of life and the means of entertainment in Greece during the last two decades of the 19th century have been re-created with the help of rare archival material, mainly from the collections of the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archives, the Benaki Museum Photographic Archive, Alpha Bank and Mr. Petros Vergos. Publicity posters, often created by important Greek artists such as Gyzis and Galanos, calendar and journal covers, photographs and postcards, theatrical programs with emphasis on French repertoire, and literary passages invite the visitor to become acquainted with the flavor of that era.


The Belle Epoque in Paris and Athens

In the 1880s the majority of the population of France was rural, but was slowly coming out of its isolation thanks to an expanded railway network. This was a period of major industrial growth and colonial expansion and major educational reforms were instituted. Paris presented a conflicting picture: foul-mouthed and dangerous on the one hand and happy, full of the music of the cabarets and the colors of Lautrec on the other. The nouveaux riches made their appearance. New Art Nouveau buildings were erected and the department store Galeries Lafayette opened its doors. In 1900 Paris hosted the World Exhibition and the Olympic Games. For most, however, the Belle Epoque in Paris is characterized by the Moulin Rouge and its stars, Aristide Bruant and the café-concerts of Montmartre, and even more so by Lautrec.

For Athens the 1880s were years of exceptional growth. It benefited from Greece’s political stability and a thriving economy based on a favorable international financial environment and the success of the country’s currants exports. By the end of the decade the city had crossed the 100,000 mark but without planning, its infrastructure proved inadequate. Athens however was also the country’s showcase and the first modern Olympics in 1896 were an opportunity for the city to display the nation’s ideas of style in art and architecture. Athenians adopted neoclassical monumental architecture for their homes. The two largest squares Syntagma and Omonoia were the main centers of public life, whereas the small railway network extended as far as Kifissia to the north and Faliron to the south of the city, offering opportunities for relief from the tension of everyday life. In the 1890s the country entered a period of economic and political crisis followed, however, by a recovery in the 1900s, which was terminated by the hardships brought on by World War I.


Henri de Toulouse-LautrecToulouse-Lautrec
is best known for his works depicting scenes from cabarets, theaters, dance halls, and brothels. These were themes that the artist lived, beginning in 1885 when he moved to Montmartre and immersed himself in its nightlife. He wanted to show life as it is, not as it should be, but this objectivity was not without empathy or humor. His interest lay in portraying people, not only those he met during his nights on the town, but also his friends and the working-class citizens of Paris. He was a hard-working artist, producing an enormous body of work in a wide range of media. Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was born on November 24, 1864 in the family home, Chateau du Bosc, in Albi, France. His father, Comte Alphonse was an eccentric aristocrat, who loved to dress up and whose main interests were hunting and falconry. His mother, Comtesse Adele was a reserved and cultivated woman to whom the artist remained close to the end of his life. Toulouse-Lautrec was not to enjoy his family's country lifestyle of riding and hunting. Due to a genetic bone condition and following a fracture of his left leg at age thirteen and his right one the following year, his legs stopped growing while his torso developed normally. He had to use a cane when walking and only grew to 1.52m tall. Comtesse Adele encouraged her son's interest in drawing and his first subjects were his family, their horses and hounds. The artist's first painting lessons were with a friend of Comte Alphonse, the animal painter Princeteau, who convinced his parents to allow Lautrec to study art. After succeeding his baccalaureat in Paris, he joined the studio of Leon Bonnat for a few months in the spring of 1882 and later moved to the one run by Fernand Cormon, a history painter interested in the ancient world. The mornings were spent at his teacher's studio practicing academic drawing, but in the afternoons Lautrec visited the Salons and exhibitions, where he discovered the big divide between academic art and the new artistic movements of the time, notably that of the Impressionists. He was most influenced by Degas and the Japanese printmakers. In 1891 he produced a color poster for the Moulin Rouge, which made him famous overnight. Lautrec made 30 posters in his lifetime, but also illustrated theater programs, book covers, menus, invitations, and sheet music. His expressive use of line found the perfect medium in lithography. He never made a distinction between commercial and fine art. In 1898 the artist's health began to deteriorate, due to alcohol abuse and syphilis. In 1899, after an attack of delirium tremens, he spent several months in a clinic, but started drinking again upon his return to Paris. Consequently his work suffered. In August of 1901 Lautrec suffered a paralytic attack and was taken to his mother's country house in Malrome, where he died on September 9th.



Exhibition Curators
Belinda Firos, Iris Kritikou


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