The World of Toulouse-Lautrec Through a Lens

Paris’s Montmartre with its alluring charm and romantic atmosphere is exactly the place that is fully reflected in the world of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings. This year, one of the prominent Swiss museums, the Museum of Fine Arts Bern also known as the Kunstmuseum Bern, puts on display the works by this world-famous French artist for the first time. Moreover, Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, drawings, lithographs, and posters are accompanied by the same photos or very similar to those used by the artist in his creative work. A talented “photographer with a brush” who tried to represent the marginal pleasures of Paris – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – is at your service!

Toulouse-Lautrec was an expert in carousing and living a fast life, the golden moment of which rushed past him as colorful skirts of cancan dancers. In the fast-changing scenery of stormy nights in Paris brothels and cabarets, he managed to notice that something special that is so appreciated today in the works of reportage photographers. However, none of the photos presented at the exhibition was taken by Toulouse-Lautrec – he had never photographed by himself. He just had a photographic vision, like no other artist of that time. This is confirmed by his modern art works with the “cut” figures reminiscent of a sudden photo shoot as if taken with a wide-angle lens, creating a “presence effect” for the viewer.

One of the main highlights of the “Toulouse-Lautrec and Photography” exhibition is the famous artist’s work titled “Madame Misia Natanson au piano” (1898), which belongs to the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern. The woman in this painting was a muse for many brilliant artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec himself, Bonnard, and Renoir. Her image can be seen in the novels by Henrik Ibsen and Marcel Proust, as well as in the finest works by Joseph Maurice Ravel and Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky. Misia Natanson, known in bohemian circles as Misia Sert, was a pianist of Polish descent, who hosted an artistic salon in Paris that gathered talented artists attracted by the charm of the owner. Thus, the “Toulouse-Lautrec and Photography” exhibition also gives a unique opportunity to see the works dedicated to Misia and her circle.

However, the incredible world of Toulouse-Lautrec is not limited to paintings in the usual sense of the word. Let’s remember his famous posters of the late 19th century, which were also inspired by photography. He created his realistic sketches from nature, but sometimes, as it is shown in the exhibition, they were based on the photos made at that time. What’s more, the exhibition is accompanied by a series of film screenings, themed tours, and different concerts so that everyone could find something special to meet his or her liking. It is on view until December 13, 2015.