When Degas visits Toulouse-Lautrec

The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Alba, southern France, is celebrating its centenary with an unprecedented comparison of the work of the artist and Degas, whom he admired, and is decked out in lights at night to tell the life story of the famous portraitist of Parisian bohemians.

“When Toulouse-Lautrec looks at Degas”: for the first time, the exhibition shows the “indulgence” between these artists who developed in “the same environment, inspired by the same themes”.

Despite this kinship, they “were never friends and were separated by a generation,” emphasizes Maud Rauffet, director of the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, located in the old episcopal city of Albi, a World Heritage Site.

A hundred works, some on loan from the Musée d’Orsay and others, show these women with lush hair, workers, musicians, opera dancers,

cabaret stars or brothel residents who inspired them; in addition to a circus, a horse or a figure from 19th-century Paris, for example, their people in gibu.

The exhibition, which runs until September 4, also recalls their connections with Suzanne Valadon, a horsewoman turned model and then artist, lover of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, pupil of Edgar Degas and mother of another artist, Maurice Utrillo; or with the singer Marie Dilhau, whom they will draw at the piano with a difference of twenty years.

The affinity of two artists

Both knew how to experiment, used the non finito technique, truncated bodies, liked framing in a checkerboard order to capture a feature, an emotion. “They don’t hesitate to look away to show not the artist on the stage, but the audience,” adds Maud Rauffet in front of La loge au mascaron, gilded by one and a portrait of a man by the other.

If Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in Alba in 1864, could sometimes draw inspiration from Degas, thirty years his senior, the works show shared moments long before they frequent the same circles. At the age of just 17, the youngest painted his father, Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec on horseback with a falcon, an oil on wood that echoes Degas’ Fauconnier watercolor.

Works reminiscent of the affectionate nickname “little falcon” with which Lautrec signed his letters to his mother, as well as the story of the sound and light that reverberates as darkness falls in the gardens below the exquisite palace.

The show, created by Philippe Cotten, whose artist is called CozTen, one of the scenographers of the Lyon Festival of Lights, takes around 400 spectators every evening in the footsteps of Toulouse-Lautrec in a “poetic immersion in the artist’s world”. .

For the occasion, the Majestic Tower disguised itself as the Moulin Rouge, adorned with 10-meter-wide wings installed by hand as a cable-descent, and the secret location was inaccessible to any machine.

“The idea was to introduce Lautrec, the character, his work, recreating the atmosphere of Montmartre, the cabaret, the circus, his time, and the invention of electricity, the train, the Universal Exhibition,” says CozTen.

When Toulouse-Lautrec looks at Degas: for the first time, the exhibition shows the “collusion” between these two artists who developed in “the same environment, inspired by the same themes”. Lionel Bonaventura/AFP

Life, time of Lautrec

“A moon too pale wears a tiara on your red hair…” singing Cora Walker’s Lamente de la butte, the audience descends on the path that runs along the Tarn.

The boxwood trees of the French-style garden are illuminated by dozens of colored LED pixels, strung together for almost a kilometer, to recreate the festive atmosphere of Parisian nights.

On the huge facades made of pink bricks, there are paintings by Lautrec, his posters of La Goulet, Aristide Bruin or Yvette Gilbert, shadow puppets of artists on a trapeze, etc. follow one after another, animated by fifty projectors.

“It creates a connection with the exhibition, brings us back to that time and the songs we heard as children,” rejoices 59-year-old Françoise Le Noin, a holidaymaker from Montelimar.

Nearby, young girls are amused by photos of the provocative Lautrec, a transvestite or naked by the sea, and jump to the rhythm of the cancan. The cheerful mood of the artist is contagious. “I really liked the lighting effects. It’s also full of humor! says 17-year-old Camille Lasher from Ivelin.

Emotions are palpable when the performance recalls the illness and then the death of the artist at the age of only 36, on a stormy night.

As if breaking out of the walls, then the shadows of two falcons fly over the gardens. Silence and darkness returned, applause erupted.

Florence PANOUSSIAN/AFP

The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Alba, southern France, celebrates its centenary with an unprecedented comparison of the work of the artist and Degas, whom he admired, and decorates itself with lights in the evening to tell the life story of the famous portraitist of the Parisian bohemian “When Toulouse-Lautrec looks at Degas”: for the first time the exhibition demonstrates…

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