The museum of Toulouse-Lautrec is at Albi, a city near Toulouse and holds a significant collection of his work, including his posters. The collection has several sketches, finished and unfinished works as well as concept pieces that show his idea development. I have always liked Lautrec’s paintings but having had a chance to see such a large collection of his work has given me insights that I had not considered before. Many of his paintings appear to be on masonite and the brown, dark surface is left bare. The figures are very dynamic and many of his moulin rouge works have strong vertical movement. Even his static figures have energy and vibrance.
Seeing a number of his sketches and his paintings, it is clear that he focused on the face first and figure second. His capturing of the facial features is minimalist. His works have a feel of being gesture over form. They appear to be quick sketches and capture in a brush stroke and a daub of paint the likeness and expression of the person portrayed.
Unfinished works show attention to the face and bare outlines of the form which he later rendered with blocks of colour.
His use of paint was also scanty. The canvas or board was often unpainted and therefore, the main colour. Pictures tended to be monochromatic. Clothing fabrics were brushed in with little pigment, yet appeared to have been carefully worked when viewed from a distance. Backgrounds were merely sketched in, however the entire piece looks complete. Lautrec appears to have had a very sure hand and accomplished so much with a stroke of the brush.
His subjects in many of his paintings in the collection were either performers or patrons of his Paris haunts. His renderings of the performers include dynamic dancers bursting into the light of the stage with a sense of place and time that is remarkable. Other pieces are more like caricature with under-lit faces as if by footlights on the stage, also placing the forms in their mileu. Toulouse-Lautrec revealed the intimate scenes behind the stage of women looking burdened or near despair. Some paintings show the intimacy and friendship among the dancers in the dressing rooms. At times their faces are hidden and you only see the gestures of comfort or warmth but you are not privy to their identity or secret mood. There is a matter of factness to his paintings behind the stage.
The male patrons seem static and rigid in comparison, often presented seated at tables being entertained.
The museum has a great collection of posters that Toulouse-Lautrec made with Lithograph. They are remarkably large and the figures are simple and dynamic. The collection includes initial sketches and
designs as well as black and white prints and coloured versions.
The museum is worth a visit.