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Indepth Arts News:

"Gauguin to Toulouse-Lautrec: French Prints of the 1890s"
2000-02-03 until 2000-04-16
Montreal, QC, CA Canada

This exhibition, that includes 75 works by such artists as Bonnard, Redon, Gauguin, Randon, Sérusier and Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, is organized and circulated by the National Gallery of Canada. Fascination with the print reached unprecedented proportions in the decade of the 1890s in France. Avid collectors and eager publishers kept pace with artists who increasingly turned to the different methods of printmaking as vehicles for expresion. No other artists embraced the print at the time with more enthusiasm than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Nabis. The Nabis, a small circle of painters who took their name from the Hebrew word nebiim, meaning prophets, included Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard, among others. Novice printmakers for the most part, they found in lithography, and colour lithography in particular, a medium most sympathetic to their aesthetic aims.

The style current among these artists in the nineties was typified by bold design, cursive lines, vibrant patterns and brilliant planes of flat colour - an approach absorbed from influences as diverse as Gauguin's paintings and Japanese woodcuts. From the East they also adopted such pictorial devices as the silhouette, the abruptly truncated form, and the dramatically skewed perspective. Their style was ideally suited to the graphic nature of the print.

The subject matter this generation appreciated was primarily urban. Toulouse-Lautrec captured the denizens of Montmartre's demimonde, Bonnard ambled the streets of Paris for his images, and Vuillard focussed intimately on cosy interiors. Many of the group also provided designs for posters, illustrations for journals, and programs for the theatre, eroding the barriers between the fine and decorative arts. The contemporary Symbolist movement contributed a taste for the mystical, the dreamlike, and the bizarre.

Printmakers of the 1890s had a vigorous promoter in the publisher André Marty, who, in 1893, issued the first of nine volumes of L'estampe originale with the intention of validating the original print as a form of artistic expression. Marty's portfolio was a resounding success, representing the full spectrum of French printmaking concerns at the end of the century.

The printmaking activity of many of these artists, however, was short-lived. Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901, and many of the most talented of the Nabis moved on to other media after the turn of the century, leaving behind the decadre of the 1890s as a brilliant, albeit brief, episode in the history of printmaking.

The exhibition Gauguin to Toulouse-Lautrec: French Prints of the 1890s has been organized by Richard Hemphill, Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings, at the National Art Gallery. Dr. Hilliard T. Goldfarb, Assistant Chief Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is in charge of the Montreal presentation of the exhibition.

Admission to the exhibition is free.

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