The well-known French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec belonged to the impressionistic movement of the 20th century. His compositions are all about movement, dance and people captured in essentially quick, unfinished, linear strokes. During his lifetime one of the places that he frequented is the well known Parisian music hall, Moulin Rouge. It was here that he saw the performance of the most celebrated dancer, Jane Avril. She was a graceful and melancholic figure and her stage performances were adored by the Parisian crowds.
She became a close friend of the artist who painted a series of public and private images of this celebrated dancer. In a recent exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, a remarkable creative partnership reflecting the special relationship of a model and a painter are captured in the paintings, posters and prints by the artist.
This iconic dancer has captured the imagination of many writers and film producers. Zsa Zsa Gabor portrayed Jane Avril in the original Moulin Rouge (1952); half a century later, the semi-fictionalized character was reinterpreted by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001).
But much of her fame came from the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. Jane’s costumes and mannerisms illustrated in garish colors epitomized the artist’s own bohemian lifestyle spent in the nightclubs and music halls around Paris in the 1880s. It also reflects an early age tendency to concentrate on observing and drawing, rather than participating in social activities. This was reinforced tragically when two serious falls due to bone disease at the age of thirteen resulted in crippling injuries to his legs leading to his stunted physical growth, a condition which he endured for the rest of his life. Toulouse-Lautrec’s remarkable tendency to combine speed and casualness while giving an uncluttered effect, something which he picked up from his interest in the Japanese art, cannot be missed while viewing his work displayed in the exhibition.