Montmartre stars: Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant
Jane Avril posters
Jane Avril was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. Unlike the powerful and extravert Goulue, Jane Avril was delicate, and discreet.
We get a sense of this from Lautrec’s portrait of her At the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge (in the Courtauld Institute, London). The narrow vertical format of the picture accentuates her slender physique.
She had spent time in a psychiatric institution and was said to be cured when she was introduced to dancing. Whilst quiet in her private life, in public when working, she was an exuberant, and talented dancer.
The portrait shows an anonymous woman entering the Moulin Rouge. In the foyer of the Moulin Rouge her face is mask like with her eyes almost closed. On stage 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 in the painting of the personal price of celebrity and fame.
It has been suggested that Lautrec was infatuated with her.
Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris
In the poster Jane Avril Au Jardin de Paris, (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), from 1893 we see Jane in action on stage. Her dress and petticoats match her striking flaming red hair.
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/frame 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
Dressed in a sleek jet-black dress and hat Jane is almost a living silhouette. The black 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 of the time; her gloves were one of her key stage props.
Toulouse-Lautrec can’t help repeating his dancing musical instruments joke, (from the 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
Our final image is again a poster this time Aristide Bruant in His Cabaret, (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) from 1893.
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.
Bruant is seen in three-quarter back profile. This allows Lautrec to concentrate on three characteristic elements of his clothing that identified Bruant as Bruant: 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 contrast for the livid 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.
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 which is doing exactly what it should: it amplifies and highlights a known image whilst being immediately recognisable and understood at the first glance.
A copy of the Bruant poster can also be see 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