My love for Toulouse-Lautrec first blossomed at the tender age of thirteen during a two week exchange program in southern France. I was hormone-ridden, angsty, and my level of French was that of a toddler. To say I stumbled around the south of France was an understatement. It wasn’t until my class group took a trip to the nearby village of Albi, Toulouse-Lautrec’s hometown, that I felt at ease. Art wasn’t something to stress about, it was visual. I wouldn’t have to worry about saying “café pour ici” as opposed to “pour emporter,” which was a serious source of stress at this point in my life. I had no prior knowledge of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec before visiting the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec à Albi. All I remember thinking after hearing his name for the first time was, “wait, so Toulouse-Lautrec is from Albi, and not Toulouse? Really? Are you sure?”
Ignorant of what was to come, I packed a lunch and a little notepad to write down my ideas and what not. When we arrived at the museum, I was enchanted. Toulouse-Lautrec’s style was like nothing my 13 year old self had ever seen. Thankfully, I had brought my little notebook because photography was forbidden, not like my crappy point-and-shoot camera would have done his artwork any justice anyway. I promptly started writing down the names of every piece I liked. Before I knew it I had written down the names of at least 20 pieces. And this is where it started. Actually, purchasing a copy of his Confetti print is where it really started. Even after moving 6 times, yes, 6, I always had my Confetti print with me, ready to be hung up on my bedroom wall, wherever that bedroom was. And here in Montreal, I got to see the original of that humble print for the first time in real life. Like, the real thing. I probably got a bit closer to the piece than is allowed, as my nose almost brushed the glass. Oh well, I had to admire every detail.
So, let’s get to the point of this article:
The Musee des Beaux Arts is exhibiting a private collection of over ninety of Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints and posters! IT IS FREE, I repeat, FREE. Don’t miss your chance to go and see it, it’s truly something special and it’s only here until the end of October. I experienced a sensation similar to the first time I ever saw his art, nearly 7 years ago. The exhibit is very tastefully done. Everything down to the frames and the materials of the wall on which the pieces are displayed complement Toulouse-Lautrec’s work. Plus, the exhibit features traditional French music, so you can truly put yourself in the shoes of a Parisian artist during the Belle Époque.
If you’re a fan of art nouveau, this is a must-see exhibit. All the essentials are there, Moulin Rouge, Jane Avril, and even Le Chat Noir, which I feel I must reiterate, is NOT by Toulouse-Lautrec, but by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, contrary to popular belief. The works of Art Nouveau artists are sometimes hard to differentiate, I’ll give you that.
Regardless, if I were you, I would section off at least 45 minutes in order to see this exhibit before it’s gone. You don’t even need your wallet, as it is free, but maybe bring a little notebook just in case you decide you want to write down the names of your favourite pieces.
Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque is on until October 30th at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal.