SYDNEY, Australia: When Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec sketched his celebrated portraits of the Parisian demi-monde, even he could never have imagined his work would one day be displayed to new admirers amid the scorching heat and gum trees of faraway Australia.
“Paris and the Moulin Rouge,” at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the nation’s capital, is unusual in that it marks the first time Australians have been treated to a full range of Lautrec’s work.
The 110 pieces on display are the result of more than three years of work. Considered one of the most influential Post-Impressionists, Lautrec captured the multifaceted nature of the bohemian Parisian night life of the 1890s.
“The national gallery is always looking to do something different,” said assistant curator Simeran Maxwell. “We haven’t done some nice French 19th-century art so we decided now was the time ... There has been a previous exhibition, but it was only on his prints. This is the first complete retrospective of paintings, prints, drawings, etcetera.”
The collection, made up of works from European and U.S. institutions including the Musee D’Orsay, the British Museum, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, includes one painting from Australia.
Lautrec adapted an unconventional style with his portraits, taking unusual points of view and with asymmetrical compositions of figures, which he would cut off or place at the front of the picture plane, almost in the viewer’s space.
One example of this is “Justine Dieuhl: Woman in a Garden 1891,” in which her swept-up hairstyle is so high and complicated that it barely fits into the painting.
There are also ample demonstrations of Lautrec’s obsession with red-headed women, such as “The Redhead with a White Blouse,” and his fixation on the dance halls of the Moulin Rouge and the Parisian brothels of his time.
The variety of the exhibit is particularly critical, Maxwell said, since it was a good chance to show people that Lautrec was much more than his famous posters and why he produced “these amazing images.”
There is the rarity factor as well, she added. “He painted on cardboard and the test of time has not done wonderful things for cardboard so they are quite fragile.”
“Paris and the Moulin Rouge” runs at Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia until April 2.