Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge

An iconic, red-haired figure, familiar from Toulouse-Lautrec's posters, Jane Avril was a star of the Moulin Rouge.

She was also the daughter of a courtesan, who endured an abusive childhood and suffered from the nervous disorder St Vitus' Dance. Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond The Moulin Rouge seeks to unite these two sides of the dancer, displaying the personal portraits Lautrec painted of his friend alongside the poster images that cemented her fame. It explores not only an extraordinary creative partnership, but also the cultural milieu that produced a genre on the cusp of art and advertising.An iconic, red-haired figure, familiar from Toulouse-Lautrec's posters, Jane Avril was a star of the Moulin Rouge. She was also the daughter of a courtesan, who endured an abusive childhood and suffered from the nervous disorder St Vitus' Dance. Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond The Moulin Rouge seeks to unite these two sides of the dancer, displaying the personal portraits Lautrec painted of his friend alongside the poster images that cemented her fame. It explores not only an extraordinary creative partnership, but also the cultural milieu that produced a genre on the cusp of art and advertising.Jane Avril was nicknamed 'La Mélinite' after the potent explosive, and her career was an exercise in illusion and self-promotion. There was no room in the larger-than-life Moulin Rouge for plain Jeanne Beaudon, so changing her name and transforming her convulsive sickness to a unique style of expressive dance, she began to cultivate her public image. The posters Toulouse-Lautrec produced to advertise her shows not only reflected this image but helped to create it. Avril later married and lived out her life in respectable bourgeois obscurity, but the posters remain " a colourful testimony to a Bohemian age of art, artifice and excess.

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When the Divan Japonais cabaret in Montmartre was redecorated in 1893, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a lithographed poster to launch the opening night. The result is a playful homage to the cabaret's Japanese theme. Not limited to the literal details of the work " the paper lanterns and bamboo furniture " the influence of Japan and its art can also be seen in the swirling asymmetry of the composition, the broad swathes of colour and the photographic outline, which abruptly crops off the head of celebrated singer Yvette Guilbert. The foreground is dominated by the slender figure of Jane Avril herself and art-critic Édouard Dujardin.Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge belongs to a series of portraits of Avril that reflect the private woman, rather than the exotic, exaggerated figure of the posters. Here Toulouse-Lautrec pictures her at the junction of two worlds. In the entrance to the cabaret she is either leaving or arriving, moving from person to persona. Her face is thin and tight, and there is an air of menace created by the gentleman's coat the hangs like a memory in the hallway, and the carriage that lingers outside the door.


Venue details

The Courtauld Gallery Somerset House, Strand London WC2R 0RN 020 7848 2526 www.courtauld.ac.uk

Entry details

Free entry with National Art Pass (standard entry charge is £6)

Open daily from 10am until 6pm

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What the critics say

the-guardian

Nowhere is the sad, strange seediness of 1890s Montmartre more sharply portrayed than in Toulouse-Lautrec's supercharged paintings " as an exhibition at the Courtauld shows


the-telegraph

With important loans from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Wadsworth Athenaeum supplemented with photographs of Jane and theatrical memorabilia, this is a terrific little show of the sort that the Courtauld does with panache.


the-times

Among his most dazzling talents was a cartoonist's ability to sum people up with a few telling strokes. By the time he had finished portraying the great cabaret star Yvette Guilbert, all he needed to draw was a pair of thin black gloves waving in the air and everyone knew exactly who he meant.


the-independent

By concentrating on this particular relationship, the Courtauld exhibition brings out exactly the combination of brilliance and human understanding which made Toulouse-Lautrec such a great portrayer of the performer and the mask we all present to the world.