For the last 16 years the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has collected the one of the finest world collections of fin-de-siècle printmaking of the late XIX — early XX. However, because of their fragility and sensitivity to light these artworks are rarely taken from the storage and offered to the public for a short time and their number for a showcase is limited.
The Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum. Photo is provided by Jan Kees Steenman
The collection of fin-de-siècle printmaking at the Van Gogh Museum includes 1800 prints, posters and artists' books. In February, 2016, the Museum displayed the whole collection on-line. This time you can see the world-famous posters like Le Chat Noir and Le Moulin Rouge with your own eye. They will be shown alongside paintings, historical photographs and decorative objects. In this way, the exhibition offers visitors a glimpse of the cosmopolitan life of fin-de-siècle Paris, the ‘artistic capital of the world' at the turn of the century. Such rich exposition has never been displayed before.
Théophile Steinlen,the poster Le Chat Noir (1896). The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the poster Le Moulin Rouge (1891). The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
At the beginning prints were used in France for replicating of paintings for public at large. The situation changed dramatically in the second half of XIX century when prints rose to the status of true, original works of art. The popularity gained its peak at the turn of the century, in 1890 — 1905. All the avant guard artists enthusiastically experimented with different techniques producing stunning innovative art works including print media, posters and illustrations for cheap magazines. All this became available for all strata of the Parisian society. Due to printing industry the art became available not only for elite but people can admire it outside in the streets and avenues of the French capital city.
Pierre Bonnard, the France-Champagne (1891). The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Jules Chéret, the Theatrophone (1890). The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
"At the moment prints are the exclusive interest here, it is a mania, the young artists no longer do anything else." -
wrote Camille Pissarro in a letter to his son, the artist Lucien Pissarro, 1897
Visitors of the showcase the Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street have a chance to travel over the strata of the society of that time where the posters played their special role. They represent two world of prints: on the one hand we see decorations for luxurious parlors and on the other hand they advertise the night life of common public.
The showcase demonstrates attitude of Parisians to advertisements of that time including almost meditative scrutinizing of a collector to a fleet glance of a passer by.
Towards left: Henri Gabriel Ibels, Sheet music Le "27" by René Esse and Georges Glanol, 1893. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
The exhibition starts on the ground floor with the exquisite works of fin de siècle for isolated viewer in a luxurious apartment. Modern designers created four rooms of such kind based on the photos of that time. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris kindly provided a rare bibliothèque, a richly decorated bookcase some meters high with cut wooden figures of nude women for storage of valuable books and engravings from a private collection. The treasure chest witnessed hidden and delicate subjects of pieces of art the artists allowed themselves in their oeuvre.
"After one of those long days of disappointing Paris life … I throw myself into an armchair, close to the stand where my favourite engravings lie sleeping in their large portfolio, and as I examine them one by one, my troubles evaporate, I forget the cares of this world!"
Critic and collector Roger Marx, 1883
Maurice Denis, Her Posture is Easy, Chaste (Les attitudes sont faciles et chastes), (1899). The Van Gogh Miseum in Amsterdam
Odilon Redon, Child's Head with Flowers (Tête d'enfant avec fleurs), 1897. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Prints could also be found outdoors, throughout the streets of Paris. Walls and columns were hung with colourful posters. In kiosks, you could buy illustrated magazines and sheet music. Young artists were very enthusiastic about producing 'popular prints' like these. They reached a huge number of people with their designs, which were full of vivid colours, streamlined forms and distinctive lettering.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was one of those pioneering artists. He depicted modern Paris life as no other artist could. Toulouse-Lautrec used many different media and made art for many kinds of consumers. Toulouse-Lautrec was equally happy to make a painting for a gallery or an illustration for a cheap magazine sold at kiosks. In any case, the singer Yvette Guilbert was one of his favourite subjects.
Towards left: Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, the firstborn child of Count Alphonse Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, was born in one of the oldest aristocratic family of France. He was about a meter and a half tall and had serious problem with his health. In Paris he often visited theaters and spent a lot of time in brothels with prostitutes and dancers, where he found a solace to his grief. Lautrec gave himself up fully to the bohemian life, spending much of his time drinking and carousing — and constantly sketching — in cabarets, racetracks, and brothels. The artist died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis, fewer than three months before his 37th birthday.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert singing ‘Linger, Longer, Loo’, 1894, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert, illustration from Le Rire, 22 December 1894, private collection
The showcase at the Van Gogh Museum brings the viewers back from the streets to suites and apartments. Art lovers wanted their own copies to examine at home. At first, print collectors had to pull down posters from the walls. But soon enough there was a lively trade in collectors' editions. These were luxury versions, printed in limited numbers and often without text. Prints for the streets were thus turned back into art prints for the elite.
The exhibition the Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street at the Van Gogh Museum will work until 11 June 2017.
According to the official site of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and at artdaily.com. The central illustration: Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, The Street (La rue), poster for the printer Charles Verneau (1896)
Artists mentioned in the article