Description of the artwork «Poster "Japanese sofa"»
Health problems and a disorderly lifestyle caused Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's premature death at the age of 36. His career as an artist lasted just over ten of those years, but he managed to become a de facto chronicler of Parisian nightlife. A regular in the cabarets, dance halls and theaters of Montmartre, Lautrec knew many artists and became friends with them. In his paintings, drawings, prints and - especially - posters, he depicted the atmosphere and inhabitants of this nightlife and contributed to the popularity of many of them.
At the height of his career, Toulouse-Lautrec established himself as the chief poster artist of Paris. So when Edouard Fournier reopened his cabaret in 1893 "Japanese sofa (Divan Japonais) after the renovation, he commissioned a painter to make an advertisement for it. He created a poster presenting a view of the lively interior of the cabaret. In this space he placed three characters - his good friends and famous representatives of the Parisian theater and literary scene. At the center of the composition is the elegant Jeanne (Jane) Avril, a famous performer of the cancan. Here, however, she appears as a spectator, watching the performance of another star - singer Yvette Gilbert (Yvette's head remains offstage, but Parisians immediately recognized their favorite by the dramatic gesture of the hands in the "trademark" long gloves). Avrille's stern black dress and hat were a stark contrast to the bright outfits with ruffles and underskirts she wore to dance. To her right is Edouard Dujardin, art critic and founder of the literary magazine Revue wagnérienne, with a yellow beard and lace tie.
The bold composition with figures dominating the center, the simplified outlines and the combination of vast monochrome areas are all typical of the innovative posters designed by Toulouse-Lautrec. They show the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, of which he was a great admirer.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's short career coincided with two major events in late 19th century Paris-the explosion of nightlife culture and the birth of the modern poster. Lithographic posters became popular in the 1890s due to technical advances in color printing and the relaxation of laws that restricted where posters could be displayed. Dance halls, café chanteaus, and street performances enlivened nightlife, and Toulouse-Lautrec's magnificent billboards reflected the vibrant appeal of the blossoming Belle Epoque.
He took up lithography at the height of his career, when it was a relatively simple and inexpensive way to make posters and prints. These works were printed in large quantities and were willingly purchased by middle-class collectors. Toulouse-Lautrec produced more than 350 prints and 30 posters, as well as lithographic theater programs, book covers and sheet music covers, which brought his avant-garde visual language to a wide public stage.