Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is one of the most familiar names of the Post-Impressionist era, and his depictions of life in fin-de-siècle Paris remain among the most popular and recognizable today. Indeed, Toulouse-Lautrec’s own biographical renown may be outshone only by the renown of his most reproduced imagery, namely his posters representing the world of bohemian Parisian nightlife in the final decade of the 19th century, the so-called Belle Époque. If you think of the Moulin Rouge or the dance hall as the places to be in 1890s Paris, it is because Toulouse-Lautrec’s famed drawings and lithographic posters make us certain of it.
A master painter, printer, and illustrator — a true exemplar of the craft of draftsmanship — Toulouse-Lautrec saw no line between fine and commercial art. From his paintings and drawings to the advertisements he was commissioned to produce to entice customers to his own favorite nightspots, in his pictures of the Belle Époque Toulouse-Lautrec created the timeless scenes of France’s cabarets, concert halls, and theaters we still cherish today. This June, Toulouse-Lautrec promises to lure local audiences into his world, albeit much closer to home, as he takes over the Polk Museum in the form of an international exhibition that includes more than 215 works of art and artifacts from the artist’s startlingly brief but transformative decade-long career.