I wanted to give a shout-out today to an amazing collection I saw recently at The Phillips Collection here in DC: Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Epoque. If you’re looking for things to do while the kids are out of school this exhibition could be just the ticket.
If you are not familiar with Toulouse-Lautrec, you are probably familiar with Moulin Rogue. Toulouse-Lautrec was the most famous poster artist of the age. If you imagine Paris around the turn of the 20th Century his lithographs would have been everywhere. Think of his art as the precursor of the movie poster: advertisements of coming attractions. Toulouse-Lautrec and contemporaries such as Théophile Alexandre Steinlein (who painted the Chat Noir above) defined the Belle Epoque.
Moulin Rouge? Kids? Really?
Yes! While the subject matter may seem “adult” the images themselves are both large and easy to understand. Many of the details are downright charming, like this little pup:
You might want to gloss over some of the descriptions- such as the series of images Toulouse-Lautrec painted of prostitutes- but the images themselves are starkly beautiful.
The Phillips collection put a lot of thought into making the exhibition accessible to all and it shows. There’s even a coloring station where you can create a poster of your own. This collection is on display for the first time in the United States and is worth the effort to visit. Just make sure you get there by April 30! I’d recommend going during the week if possible to avoid crowds. However even on a Sunday afternoon it was busy, but not uncomfortable.
I really enjoy the Phillips Collection because it’s do-able in an afternoon unlike the National Gallery of Art which would require years to cover. Once you’ve enjoyed the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition be sure not to neglect the permanent collections. In keeping with the day’s theme I’d especially spend time with Renoir and Degas- both prominently featured at The Phillips.
Even casual fans of Parisian culture will enjoy Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Epoque. A visit would be a perfect preview for an upcoming trip to France.
However if, like me, you’re a lover of Toulouse-Lautrec’s art on its own merits I’d recommend a special trip. You may not get another chance to see such a concentration of his art in one place again anytime soon.
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