Toulouse Lautrec and the Art Nouveau Poster (4 stars)

  • 11 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

This exhibition shows 130 lithographic posters, all clamouring for your attention. Some of the famous images stand out, of course - Aristide Bruant with his red scarf by Lautrec, Mucha’s Job cigarette girl with smoke wreathing her hair - but there are numerous less familiar images which are beautiful artworks and still work on their original premise as adverts.

There is a tendency to think of advertising as a recent phenomenon, but this exhibition demonstrates that using scantily clad ladies to sell everything from cigarette papers to sardines is not new. Also, these expertly designed and seductively coloured, large-scale images inspired ‘affichomanie’, poster-mania, leading to posters being torn down by collectors almost as soon as they were put up. Thanks to these design buffs, this ephemeral art form remains with us today. Many avant-garde artists, including Lautrec, were encouraged by the advertiser’s fee to produce posters, but found the lithographic medium an exciting new way of working, in which they could explore the relationships of pattern, space and line, as evidenced in the work on show. At the turn of the 20th century, exhibitions just like this one, featuring sometimes as many as 1600 prints, toured Europe, disseminating not only developments in advertising and typography but artistic styles as well: Arts and Crafts, the ‘Intimisme’ of Bonnard, Art Nouveau, etc. Seeing Lautrec’s famous images in their original size and context demonstrates the effectiveness of his silhouettes and use of dramatic lighting. (Ailsa Boyd)

City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until 22 Oct, £5 (£3.50)

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