Short Legs Can, Can Make a Fine Artist

The entrance leads into a corridor upon whose walls are projected films of another Paris – a fin-de-siècle city not yet eaten up by the motorcar and where ladies rarely showed their ankles. Stiff’-collared men with boaters, bowlers or top hats stroll nonchalantly with their walking sticks. Under the Eiffel tower gleam art-nouveau buildings of the 1900 Exposition Universelle (the Eiffel tower, of course, belongs to the 1889 exhibition).

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The scene is set for another exhibition, that of one of the greatest painters and graphic artists of late nineteenth century Paris and, indeed, of all time. ‘If I had not got shorter legs I would not have become an artist”, he said. He also proclaimesd, “The place I feel most at ease in is a brothel.” Recognize him?

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If you do and you appreciate his extraordinary contribution to the world of art – over 300 works produced in less than ten years when he succumbed, aged just 37, to his favourite indulgences, drink and sex (syphilis contracted with one of his ‘amies’) then you’d better hurry to Pisa’s Palazzo Blu where Toulouse Lautrec’s luci e ombre di Montmartre is on show until the 14th of February.

That Saint Valentine’s date commemorates too Lautrec’s abiding love of life and his utterly sensitive and totally unpornographic way of entering into the intimacies of women’s day-to-day lives: women washing themselves in a tin bath, combing their hair, uncorsetting themselves, loving each other, preparing themselves for their clients – top hats artfully placed on delicate lingerie – and, of course, performing in one of the great night spots of the time the Moulin de la Gallette and the Moulin Rouge among the most notorious of them. The great actresses and can-can dancers really come to life here and not just Jane Avril or black elbow-length gloved Yvette Guilbert!

The Palazzo Blu has since its inception in 2009 set itself up as one of Tuscany’s most intelligent exhibition spaces and one which bears easy comparison with venues like Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi. Last year it was Modigliani (see our post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/picasso-and-modigliani-two-unmissable-exhibitions-near-lucca/ ) but since that the beautifully restored baroque palazzo re-opened its doors to the public in 2008 it has covered such topics as Chagall and the Mediterranean, Rosellini and Egypt, Galileo Galilei Mirò in Pisa, Picasso, Kandinsky and Schoenberg, plus hosting of conferences, book presentations, workshops and courses.

The palazzo is just a ten minutes’ walk from the station, has a great bookshop and caffé and is now surely as integrated in the Pisan landscape as its leaning tower.

To return to the exhibition: the atmosphere of what were once known as the naughty nineties in puritan UK is fully savoured here. There’s even the poster T-L did for the first performance of Wilde’s Salome (banned in the UK because of its theatrical representation of a biblical subject);  and posters form a large part of what’s on show, including one for the English cycle chain firm Simpson.

Lithography was T-L’s forte and many of the limited editions have his own notes and dedications written on them. Although certainly not uncrowded I was able to truly be at nose’s length from the extraordinary characters depicted often with just a few strokes and with a japonaise feel of colour (especially ‘flat’ colour) and asymmetric composition (T-L knew loved Japanese artists like Hokusai and Utamaro) and feel every line and live every colour in the display.

Intelligently, the exhibition is divided into five sections:

  1. Life in Montmartre
  2. The theatre and music halls
  3. Posters for shows and product adverts
  4. The maisons closes (brothels, or more eloquently in Italian, case di tolleranza,)
  5. The circus, horses and friends

Even more shrewdly dispersed among T-L’s works are those of at least another contemporary. I was particularly taken by the Italian Zandomeneghi who lived in Paris at the same time. Who can’t forget this gorgeous girl, now is eternally awakening up at Florence’s Palazzo Pitti’s modern art gallery?

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And here are a few more from this Italian Parisian. What about an exhibition on him soon?

It was a dismally rainy day last Saturday so what better thing to do than to seek refuge in the colour and life of the work of the prodigiously fine artistry of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It had certainly been a long time since the last exhibition we’d seen of T-L (R.A. London) and we had really been missing him!

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Don’t forget to consult the Palazzo Blu web site regularly at

http://www.palazzoblu.org/index.php?id=1&lang=it

if you don’t want to be disappointed next time!

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