Toulouse-Lautrec’s Montmartre Celebrity Posters Jane Avril Aristide Bruant

Montmartre stars: Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant

Toulouse-Lautrec fixed the image and distilled the spirit of 1890s Montmartre forever. His paintings and posters made Montmartre.

Lautrec used caricature to capture the gaudy, theatricality of Montmartre nightlife. His penetrating observation and incisive, lightning line helped convey psychological insight in a flash. Thanks to Lautrec’s posters, names, stage personas and celebrity styles from 1890s Montmartre live on.

I look further at Lautrec’s use of caricature, the influence of Japanese prints and interpretation in the how to capture the spirit and Moulin Rouge pages.

Jane Avril posters

Jane Avril was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. Unlike the powerful, popular and extravert Goulue, Jane Avril was delicate, and discreet.

As a young woman she had spent time in a psychiatric institution and was said to be cured when introduced to dancing.

She was quiet in her private life but in public, when working, she was an exuberant and talented dancer. She had many admirers and features regularly in Lautrec paintings and posters. It has been suggested that Lautrec was infatuated with her.

We get a sense of her muted off-stage personality from Lautrec’s portrait of her At the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge. The narrow vertical format of the picture accentuates her slender physique.

The portrait shows an anonymous woman entering the Moulin Rouge. In the foyer her face is mask-like, her eyes almost closed. Once on stage, with her performance face on, she would psychologically transform to become the extravagant and fascinating performer Jane Avril.

As in The Goulue Entering the Moulin Rouge there is also a suggestion here from Lautrec of the personal price of celebrity and fame. Montmartre showbiz could wear you down but with Lautrec’s art you got immortality.

Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris

In the poster Jane Avril Au Jardin de Paris from 1893 we see the Montmartre celebrity version of Jane in action on stage. Her dress and petticoats match her striking flaming red hair. A feathery, frilly, extravagant hat completes her eye-catching look. It’s hard to believe that this is the same sober, stiff figure we saw entering the Moulin Rouge in the painting.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris poster. The dancer Jane Avril is on stage executing a signature energetic high kick. She wears an extravagant hat, an orange dress to match her flaming hair and yellow and white petticoats. She is also dressed in black stockings and long arm gloves. We see the stage floorboards. A musician’s hand is shown in shadow in the foreground gripping the head of a double bass.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris poster. (1) © Wikimedia Commons.

She is executing a nimble high-kick and wears black stockings on her fine legs. The perspective lines of the stage floorboards draw our vision in and help suggest her stepping, skipping and kicking.

In contrast to the colourful figure of Jane, a musician’s hand is shown in shadow in the foreground gripping the head of a double bass. The sinuous line of the musical instrument which doubles as a frame for the poster shows Art Nouveau influences.

In a humorous touch Lautrec has turned the head of the double bass into a smiling, swaying sphinx as it warms to her performance.

Jane Avril le Divan Japonais

The dancer Jane Avril is seen at the Montmartre venue le Divan Japonais in Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster. She is sitting enjoying a drink whilst behind her a bourgeois man with top hat and cane approaches her. She wears a jet-black dress and hat. Her black clothes throw her red hair into dynamic contrast. Some musicians and musical instruments are suggested in shadow and a cropped performer is seen on stage.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster of Jane Avril at the Montmartre venue le Divan Japonais. (2) © Wikimedia Commons.

Dressed in a sleek jet-black dress and hat Jane is a living silhouette. The black fabric throws her red hair into dynamic contrast. She is shown enjoying a drink whilst taking in the show.

The head of the performer on stage has been cropped but we know that she is another Montmartre star. The visual clue is the characteristic black gloves which reach almost to the singer’s elbows. This is Yvette Guilbert a famous singer-storyteller and older contemporary of Jane Avril. Her gloves were one of her key stage props.

Toulouse-Lautrec can’t help repeating his dancing musical instruments joke, from the Jane Avril Jardin de Paris poster, as once again the instruments have been lifted and charmed into rhythmic movement, straining to get a better view as Yvette Guilbert goes through her repertoire.

Aristide Bruant in His Cabaret

Publicity poster for the Montmartre cabaret owner and popular singer Aristide Bruant by Toulouse-Lautrec. Bruant is seen in three-quarter back profile; We see his heavy black cape, his thick black felt hat and a livid red scarf that hangs down his back. In his gloved hands he carries a heavy stick. His face is in profile and his thick hair falls onto his red scarf. ‘Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret’, (Aristide Bruant in his cabaret) is printed to the bottom right.
The Montmartre cabaret owner, popular singer and friend of Toulouse-Lautrec, Aristide Bruant. (3) © Wikimedia Commons.

Aristide Bruant was a popular singer known for ‘insulting’ his bourgeois audience. His realist songs were amplified verbal caricatures of the difficulties faced by the proletarian ordinary people. They were poetic stereotypes. Singing songs of working class misery whilst ribbing his bourgeois audience brought Bruant success; he owned a cabaret called the Mirliton in Montmartre.

Bruant and Toulouse-Lautrec were friends and the artist had often exhibited his paintings in the cabaret after leaving art academy in the 1880s.

Lautrec articulates Bruant’s stage character with flair

Bruant had constructed a stage persona using easily identifiable elements of dress and these are what Toulouse-Lautrec has concentrated on in the poster.

He is seen in three-quarter back profile. This allows Lautrec to concentrate on three characteristic elements of his clothing that identified Bruant as Bruant the cabaret singer: his great flowing cape, his wide felt hat and his red scarf which is thrown round his neck and hangs down his back. Like in the Jane Avril poster, Lautrec has made the cape and hat raven black, this serves as a perfect backdrop for the vivid red scarf.

We see Lautrec’s mastery of the Japanese print style: great areas of flat simple colour that suggest a silhouette, sweeping thick contours that delimit the edges of cape, scarf and hat and which show that the fabric is heavy and substantial. These featureless graphic elements are contrasted with the delicate and precise work on Bruant’s face in profile that finely pick out his features.

Toulouse-Lautrec displays an economy of style by concentrating attention on the known props of the stage character thus reinforcing the Bruant persona.

Here again is a poster doing exactly what it should: amplifying the persona of a known Montmartre celebrity and being recognised at a glance.

A copy of the Bruant poster can be seen in the Montmartre Museum.


All photographs © David Macmillan except: (1), (2), (3).

(1) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril by Toulouse-Lautrec, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
(2) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec artist QS:P170,Q82445
 Details of artist on Google Art Project, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Divan Japonais - Google Art Project, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
(3) Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 003, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons