ARTS & CULTURE
01/08/2013 04:40 pm ET | Updated Jan 09, 2013

Henri De Toulouse Lautrec Goes Down Under With Blockbuster Exhibition At National Gallery Of Australia (PHOTOS)

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was only 36 when he died, but in his 20 year career the provocative painter captured Parisian nightlife in all its intoxicating beauty. A massive exhibition at the The National Gallery of Australia explores the many sides of the Moulin Rouge patron through 100 of his works, from paintings and posters to sketches.

toulouselautrec

Toulouse-Lautrec, the son of two aristocratic first cousins, suffered from a congenital disease brought on by inbreeding. At an early age, after breaking both his legs, the young boy's illness prevented him from ever recovering. As a grown man Toulouse-Lautrec was 5'1", with an adult torso and child-sized legs. His ailments often left Toulouse-Lautrec bedridden, at which time he immersed himself in art.

While Impressionists in Paris were captivated with light, landscape and sensation, Toulouse-Lautrec was all about the spectacle. His posters and paintings invite viewers into the seedy glamour of fin de siècle Montmartre, a land filled with absinthe, petticoats and endless stages. Characters previously shelved as low-brow like prostitutes, clowns and can-can dancers gained dignity as well as celebrity appeal through Toulouse-Lautrec's inviting brush strokes.

The artist's work functions as a proto-tabloid or reality show, immortalizing performers like La Goulue, Jane Avril and Yvette Guilbert into both artists and objets d'art. Ken Johnson of the New York Times wrote that Toulouse-Lautrec's women were always "free agents and creative artists... in charge of their own destinies."

The National Gallery of Australia exhibition runs until April 12, 2013.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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