Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity at the National Galleries of Scotland is the first exhibition of the art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) to be held here, and many visitors will already be very familiar with the iconic poster images on display here. Many will probably have had one or more of these posters as reproductions in some size and format on their own home walls at some time. These poster images depicting the stars of Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir, Ambassadeurs and other entertainment venues in the bohemian district of Montmartre and other venues in Paris at the time, are some of the most recognisable images in art.
In this exhibition we explore the beginnings of something that we are now perhaps a little too familiar with – the art of celebrity advertising. Here in late 19th century Paris, the great music and variety hall performers of their day, people like Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant, vied with one another to find artists who could promote their image above all other entertainers in bright and vivid illustrations and text as posters to be seen everywhere by everyone. Yes, other performers in England, Europe and America were also exploring the celebrity poster image for themselves, and Japanese Kabuki stars had long been featured in Japanese prints, but no one anywhere was doing it quite like this at the time and with as much artistic style and flair
This exhibition brings together around 75 posters, prints, paintings and drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries including Pierre Bonnard, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen and Jules Chéret. Also included are personal effects from some of the performers featured in these iconic posters too. Wisely, this exhibition does not stop at the original posters, but also takes a look at how these images have influenced artists in the years that followed them, and Walter Richard Sickert’s High-Steppers is as good an example as any of their enduring influence upon the generations of artists who came after them.
The influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his artistic competitors (they were all looking for commissions) had enduring influences on how art was produced for mass market consumption, and lithography and poster-making were central to his creative process from early experiments in the medium in the early 1890s.
Over the years, I have seen these images on so many diverse products that it is hard to imagine a world without them. What is wonderful to see in this exhibition though is the original posters themselves, and the way that the personal ephemera of the entertainers featured in their images reminds us all that these were posters of real living performers, something that is far too easy to forget when you just see the image somewhere over 100 years later.
Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity brings little bit of the lives of the artists and the performers alive again after all of these years.
Review by Tom King
Pin-Ups Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity
From 6 October 2018 to 20 January 2019
Full price £11.50 (£10 online). Concessions available
25 & under £6.50 (£5 online)