The art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) is inseparable from Montmartre (view a map of Paris), the working-class district on the outskirts of Paris where the artist lived for most of his career. In the late nineteenth century, Montmartre became the heart of a daring, often racy, entertainment industry that lured thrill-seeking Parisians to its dance halls and cabarets, circuses and brothels. The district was electrified by the unusual mix of people drawn to the quarter: working-class laborers enticed by the inexpensive housing, performers seeking fame and fortune, adventurous Parisians who strayed from the more bourgeois city center, and curious tourists. Cheap rents, along with the licentious culture, also attracted young, avant-garde artists, who reveled in Montmartre’s pleasures. For these artists, the raucous spirit of Montmartre—its unbridled energy, tawdry behavior, garish colors, and provocative celebrities—was both a way to live and a subject to depict.
Set upon a butte, or hill, and removed from the city center, Montmartre had an identity distinct from central Paris. Its rural roots were evident at the end of the century, when working windmills still dotted the landscape. Narrow, winding, and haphazard streets also contrasted Montmartre with central Paris, where Baron Haussmann’s urban modernization plan had created a coherent design with broad avenues and uniform street lamps. Considered a semirural, working-class area, which was not incorporated into the city limits until 1860, Montmartre was unaffected by Haussmann’s urban renewal and consequently retained its character. Montmartre’s separation from central Paris—geographically, demographically, historically, and architecturally—set the stage for the decadent fringe culture that arose in the district on the butte.
The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation is proud to be the foundation sponsor for the exhibition
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