Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
1896
Boca Raton Museum of Art

The emergence of the poster as a potential form of high art began with the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Marked by highly simplified and abstracted designs, as seen here in the flurry of kicking legs, frothy petticoats and plumed hats, the artist evoked the excitement of the wild and energetic movement of the dancers as they perform the cancan. This poster was commissioned by the dancer Jane Avril (the artist’s dear friend), to advertise the troupe’s performance at the Palace Theatre in London. The troupe was booked to perform the Quadrille Naturaliste, a cancan style dance created by Celeste Mogador and performed in a line formation of four. For the time, it was quite risqué as the dancers exposed not only their petticoats but also their bare skin and legs. Here Toulouse-Lautrec has depicted, Avril with her recognizable fiery, red hair at the far end, followed by fellow troupe members, Eglantine, Cleopatre and Gazelle performing in their line.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s graphic boldness, radical economy of line and racy depiction of modernity, consumerism, entertainment and leisure delivered a new social message to the public at end of the 19th century. His work became the symbol of Paris’ Belle Epoque–a period optimism, peace and prosperity that allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. The flat rhythmic patterning and strong, calligraphic outline (both influences from Japanese woodblock prints) combined with the spatter shading and areas of color, both bold and subtle, attest to the artist’s immense skill in pioneering the quite new technique of color lithography. Though Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine was one of Lautrec's last posters and one that influenced many young artists. A teenaged George Braque once stated that as a young boy he laid in wait watching a copy being posted on a Le Havre wall by a bill-sticker for the opportunity to unglue the poster and take it home for his own room. Picasso had an impression of the poster hanging in his Montmartre studio.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine [Mademoiselle Eglantine's Company]

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine [Mademoiselle Eglantine’s Company], 1896, Lithograph on paper. Acquired in 2001; Gift of Dr. Mark Plon in memory of Esther Plon.