Undoubtedly the greatest fine artist to create a poster was Toulouse-Lautrec, the Post-Impressionist who captured the high -- and more often -- the low life of Belle Epoque Paris better than anyone. The absinthe-addicted nobleman, whose legs were stunted by disease as a youth, would only make 31 posters before his untimely death in 1901 at the age of 37, but his pioneering efforts would fuel a poster craze through the 1890s and forever elevate the status of the poster to “Art”.
Lautrec created 4 timeless poster portraits of his friend Aristide Bruant from 1892 to 1894. It was a match made in heaven. Bruant was a balladeer and poet, who in many ways was the world’s first rock star. Famous for his sharp-tongued musical reviews that insulted, shocked and enthralled Parisians, Bruant brought throngs of well-heeled Parisians to Montmartre for an evening of “slumming it” in one of the cabaret’s that he owned over his career. His caustic wit belied a shrewd literary intelligence, and his talent for business was apparent by his successful career as a cabaret owner where he could perform.
This portrait promoting Bruant’s performances in his cabaret is one of the most extraordinary posters of all time, expressing the genius of both artist and subject. Bruant is captured in his theatre, his signature velvet smock, flowing red scarf, balladeer hat, and imperious gaze all clearly identifying him. There are few details – Lautrec has used flat areas of color without any modeling, and the portrait in red and deep bluek is remarkably forceful. We know that Lautrec was fascinated by Japanese wood-block prints, and his portrait reflects the lessons of powerful kabuki and warrior prints. It is a poster that spoke to everyone, but Lautrec’s methods were far ahead of their time and should truly be called Avant-Garde.
An extremely fine impression with the largest margins we have seen.