Ambassadors: Aristide Bruant in his cabaret

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec • Graphics, 1893, 150×100 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Graphics
Subject and objects: Portrait, Genre scene
Style of art: Art Nouveau
Technique: Lithography
Materials: Paper
Date of creation: 1893
Size: 150×100 cm
Artwork in selections: 38 selections

Description of the artwork «Ambassadors: Aristide Bruant in his cabaret»

Every modern graphic designer, who is dreamily calling his or her work a “work of art”, should mentally add: “Thanks to Lautrec”. Advertising poster as an applied phenomenon appeared in Paris in the 1860s: singers, concerts, cancans, artists, cabarets, all this variety of bohemian events began to be reported to the French using street posters. They were bright, flashy, and flirtatious. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became the first advertiser to turn posters into real art.

Lithography fascinated Lautrec, a seeker of new techniques and styles, a lover of Japanese art, so much that he could disappear in the printing house all day, personally supervising the printing process. His night’s sleep was often limited to a couple of hours in a cabby’s carriage on his morning way from some cabaret or restaurant, where he drank all night long, when Henri asked a cabman to drive him around the city and bring him to the printing house launching his new poster at the beginning of the morning shift. Lautrec created only 30 posters in 10 years, but today, each of them is a recognized masterpiece with a firework of artistic principles that still work today.

Aristide Bruant was the owner of the Mirliton cabaret in Montmartre, where Lautrec liked to spend nights. Bruant became famous for a very unexpected, even for himself, talent. Of course, he sang songs that were undoubtedly popular enough. He had a low, velvety voice and the appearance of a Roman legionnaire, but it was not his voice that attracted crowds of listeners to Mirliton every evening, but Bruant’s ability to swear exquisitely. It was unexpected and piquant, and crowds of society ladies and rich men came there every evening to be properly cursed. “Attention!” Bruant met another visitor. “Here comes a whore. But don’t think she’s kind of a poorish girl. A first class product!” or “There are only fifteen of you on the bench. Make room, damn it, a little more! And you, sleepwalker, sit down here with your sluts!”

The respect and admiration of Lautrec and Bruant was absolutely mutual, they both hated bigotry and “decent” things, they appreciated each other for a sharp look and simplicity of formulations. When Aristide Bruant was invited to give a concert at the Ambassadors cabaret, he stipulated that Toulouse-Lautrec would draw the poster for him. The owner of the Ambassadors was full of indignation when he saw the freshly printed poster, but Bruant set a condition: he would only perform with this poster. The cabaret owner gave up.

Within the rigid framework of lithographic printing, Lautrec created his own unique style. He boldly used combinations of large colour spots, paradoxically built contrast between the forefront and background, created a perspective or brought the scene close to the viewer. He was a brilliant draftsman who was capable of conveying movement and emotions in several laconic lines. Finally, Lautrec experimented endlessly: he sprayed paint on the lithographic stone with a brush, sprinkled gold powder onto the image.

Bruant adored this cheerful dwarf, who stirred the Earthquake cocktail at the cabaret table and the colours on his palette in his studio equally masterly.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova