Viva Lautrec!

Museum puts remarkable collection on display

Acquaint yourself with the social menagerie of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Montmartre in the late 1800s through a visit to a captivating new exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art, “Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris.”

Meet the dancers La Goulue and Jane Avril, the impresario Aristide Bruant, the portly comedian Cadieux, the chanteuse of the long, black gloves Yvette Guilbert and many others in Lautrec’s painterly posters and sketches from the days.

Nearly 100 colorful works by the iconic graphic master are on display through Dec. 12, grouped by subject matter with a special gallery devoted to the Moulin Rouge. This infamous dance hall gave the world the Can Can, the Bolero, the Fandango, and the intrigue that has become French cliche.

The works are all part of the Baldwin M. Baldwin Collection presented to the museum in 1987 — 100 years after their creation. These include a complete set of Lautrec’s posters and almost 80 other prints, two paintings and 10 drawings, according to the museum.

When the exhibit closes, the museum plans to photograph and conserve these important works to be accessible to global audiences via its website.

Lautrec, a daring print-maker and master of the modern lithographic process, lived and worked in the bars, bordellos and dance halls of Montmartre. At the time, this was the nerve-center of the anti-establishment culture in Paris. Patrons and providers lived out the moral confusion reflected in French society at the close of the 19th century.

An aristocrat, Lautrec also frequented the Longchamps racetrack and the circus, and the exhibit contains several works he painted from these experiences.

Lautrec’s contemporaries included Degas, Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Seurat, Theophile-Alexandre Steinlein and Edouard Vuillard. He studied under Leon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon and was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. Nevertheless, Lautrec pioneered his own vivid style — bold, saucy and satirical designs promoting the bohemian “entertainment” scene.

With a front-row seat to this scene, Lautrec captured images from the Belle Époque Period in Paris for all time. His brilliant interpretations have not lost their luster, as exhibit visitors will see.

Lautrec at a glance


Nov. 24, 1864


Sept. 9, 1901

Claim to fame:

Along with Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, Lautrec is considered one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. In 2005 at Christie’s auction house, a record was set when “La blanchisseuse,” his early painting of a young laundress, sold for $22.4 million.

Health problems:

Since his father and mother were first cousins (his two grandmothers were sisters) he suffered from a number of congenital conditions attributed to the tradition of inbreeding to protect the family fortune. At age 13, he fractured his right thigh bone, and at age 14, the left. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs stopped growing. As an adult, he was less than 5 feet tall having developed an adult-sized torso while retaining his child-sized legs.

An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death at the family estate in Malrome at age 36.


Throughout his career (less than 20 years), Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works.

On the big screen:

Lautrec has been the subject of four films:

In John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” (1952) he is portrayed by Jose Ferrer; in “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) he is portrayed by John Leguizamo; “Lautrec” (1998) was directed by Roger Planchon; “Lautrec” (1999) is a musical written by Charles Aznavour.



  • Exhibit: ‘Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris’
  • Where: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
  • When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; to 9 p.m. Thursdays;noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 12
  • Admission: $12
  • Related: Summer Salon Series, 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 2. Celebrate the legacy of Toulouse-Lautrec with performances by contemporary artists, cash bar, art-making activities and more:
  • July 22 - Bombshell, Tristan Shone; July 29 - The Border Corps, Brian Dick and Christen Sperry-Garcia; Aug. 5 - Agitprop, MayMartinez, Cauleen Smith
  • Contact: (619) 232-7931,