Paris was the center of nightlife and spectacle in the late 19th century, a moment immortalized in evocative posters, prints and paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). The artist’s extraordinary attention to the performers, dancers and actors of Montmartre—the heart of the city’s bohemian nightlife—is the focus of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris, on view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery through August 4, 2019. The exhibition of approximately 200 works is a collaboration between the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Boston Public Library (BPL), drawing on both institutions’ extensive holdings of rarely displayed graphic works by Toulouse-Lautrec. It also includes a selection of loans from the Harvard Art Museums, the Houghton Library of Harvard University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as local private collectors. Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris explores the artist’s enthusiastic participation in the celebrity culture of his day and how, to a remarkable degree, he defined it for generations to follow. In addition to his famous lithographic prints and posters, which distilled the defining gestures, costumes and expressions of “les stars” of the day into instantly recognizable images, the exhibition features never-before-displayed early drawings and a selection of paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec. Works by his contemporaries, including Pierre Bonnard, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sargent and James Jacques Joseph Tissot, are also incorporated throughout the galleries, as well as recently restored period films, music, instruments and fashion accessories. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications and a range of public programming offered at the Museum and the BPL’s Central Library and 25 neighborhood branches. BPL cardholders can sample MFA membership with free admission throughout the month of June 2019. “Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris” is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Boston Public Library. Sponsored by Encore Boston Harbor. Generously supported by The Boston Foundation. Additional support from the great-grandchildren of Albert H. Wiggin, the Cordover Exhibition Fund, and anonymous funders.
“We are proud to partner with the Boston Public Library to bring together these two rich collections of work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s exciting to be able to bring to life the spectacles of modern Paris, and offer the public unprecedented access to works of art in new ways,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “This has been a true collaboration, and we’re extremely grateful to all of our colleagues at the BPL.”
The MFA’s conservation team undertook the preparation and framing of pieces from the BPL’s collection for the exhibition. Nine oversized posters were also sent for extensive conservation treatment, framing and digitization at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover; this work was jointly funded by the MFA and the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Five of these posters are on view at the Museum in Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris, while the remaining four are displayed at the BPL’s Central Library in Copley Square. Additionally, the BPL’s complete collection of more than 350 works by Toulouse-Lautrec has been digitized and is available on digitalcommonwealth.org.
“Boston Public Library is thrilled to take our partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts to a new level, collaborating on this joint exhibition featuring the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and making them widely accessible to the public,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library. “This is not just a superb example of Boston’s cultural institutions working together, but also helps us unlock our vast historical collections for the enjoyment of all. This exhibition and its programming allow us to explore themes at the intersection of art and celebrity across the centuries.”