What a Spectacle was Paris: 19th Century French Prints at The Hyde
Toulouse-Lautrec & Company: Prints from the Belle Époque, an exhibition featuring ten lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec and approximately twenty prints by contemporaries such as Pierre Bonnard, Jules Chéret, Maurice Denis, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen and Édouard Vuillard, will be on view in The Hyde Collection’s Hoopes Gallery through May 27.
This intimate exhibition of etchings, woodcuts and lithography from the Jan Balet and the Sparling Family collections demonstrates the varied printmaking techniques and styles of the “Belle Epoque”.
The “Belle Epoque”(the beautiful era, 1880-1914) was the period in French history that experienced the formation of the Third French Republic(1870-1940), the French Industrial Revolution, and the modernization of France. An exciting new way of life and opportunity for some, unemployment, poverty, and injustice for others(The Dreyfus Affair). The arts flourished. Impressionism, Post- Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism, all had their origins and fruition during this time. Literature, Music, Dance and Architecture also experienced exciting new forms of expression.
Paris night life was infamous and a new group of entrepreneurs embraced the advant-garde, employing them as entertainers and performers, as well as program, poster and set designers. The goal was to achieve a total spectacle. The Theatre de L’Oeuvre and the Moulin Rouge were just some of these famous theaters.
To promote and support the “Spectacle”, lithography emerged as the reproduction method of choice. The continually changing venues demanded new designs and material. Lithography, unlike woodcuts and etching(which were labor intensive), was a perfect medium for the artist and the style that reflected the exciting new form of entertainment.
Toulouse-Lautrec, a collector and student of Japanese Art, integrated the Japanese approach into his paintings and his graphic art. Bold, flat primary and secondary color, black contour, simplified shapes, and unique perspectives, drawn with an ink stick on a stone surface produced immediate and fresh images. He was an accomplished draftsman and a natural for the medium. His line gesture and compositions were sophisticated and elegant, as well as entertaining and provocative. Toulouse- Lautrec created a style and standard that future artists and craftsmen would emulate.
Jules Cheret developed the technique of printing with 3 separate stones. Black, warm and cool colors printed independently, overlaying each to create a spectrum of color with just three “runs”. He is credited with over 1,000 graphic designs.
Pierre Bonnard, realizing he had to simplify his shapes and compositions, introduced abstract patterns into his work.
Modern artists loved lithography, and those who appreciated the work and the artist began employing them in advertisements (Toulouse- Lautrec’s “Confetti” and “La Chaine Simpson”). They also collaborated on portfolios and catalogs chronicling famous celebrities, entertainers, Parisian night life and even prostitutes. The 1890′s were the golden age of lithography and the prints are as popular (and as collectable) as ever. They would also influence the artist of future styles from Art Nouveau to Pop Art.
The Hyde is located at 161 Warren Street, Glens Falls, and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Call 792-1761 for information.
Richard Stout is an artist living and working in Hague