2 January 2013

Boho musings

We’re back in Canberra for its 100th birthday and Toulouse-Lautrec. The National Gallery of Australia is hosting its blockbuster, a retrospective on TL. We all know the posters and the story of the short man at the Moulin Rouge. I didn’t expect to find it so interesting, but I did. I enjoyed a few renowned works and was underwhelmed by a few others, including one drawing whose subject I could not even make out. Strangely, I came across the end of Moulin Rouge, the film, that night and the characters fit so neatly. TL is renowned for his characters and for his inhabiting the sultry side of town along with his young and poor artist confreres. He died young (37) and he was sickly (a congenital disease and two broken legs in youth and his short stature) but he was from wealthy stock and returned to the family property to die. So this is not just a story of poverty and comsumption. I was interested in the thin and pale colours coming from oil paints thinned with turps and painted on cardboard; the blank space left in the frame; the draftsmanship and pen-work and lithography; the framing on diagonals and perspective that mirrored wide-angled lensed photography. The NGA seemed to hold a goodly collection of the prints, although the oils were loans from Tate or Met or MOMA or other. It’s hardly a life-changing exhibition, but there were plenty of recognisable images and an entre to the very stylish Parisian characters of the era. Post-’60s, I find it hard to associate style with art and alt., but they certainly did. The dandy was a radical figure in the late 19th century. This era gave us the Paris we know, but it was a very new invention, being post-Haussmann with new building styles and open spaces and boulevards and presumably the destruction of the mediaeval city. So these artists were in a new place rather than in deep and resonant surroundings. Perhaps Berlin is the current parallel with all its rebuilding; certainly it’s renowned at the moment for its vibrant culture. So I mused as we wondered a quiet New Year’s Eve session at the NGA. This was interesting for its art and characters and also for the cultural issues it raises. But for all the prostitutes and dancers and cabaret artists portrayed, it remains a show at a gallery. The real boho thing was in town, but I missed that: the NYE 1927 (centenary of Canberra) celebration with nude Can-Can.

Toulouse-Lautrec : Paris & the Moulin Rouge is the National Gallery of Australia’s summer exhibition for early 2013.

Images above are:
  • Jockey-Chevaux de Courses, color lithograph by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, image from Yale University Art Gallery on Wikicommons. NGA also owns a copy
  • Jane Avril, colour lithograph by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, image from Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Wikicommons
  • La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge, oil on cardboard by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, image from MOMA on Wikicommons

  • NGA exhibition website
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