Lautrec Elevates 'Low' Art

The most original art produced in the last decade of the 19th century was full of foresight. Experimental ideas welled up that would develop into the full-blown "modern art" of the 20th century.

"Newness" of style was a central concept.

Part of this newness was a determination to associate art with ordinary people, with daily life on the street. At the same time, art increasingly dealt with the fashionable, the contemporary, and the temporary.

Paintings, like their subjects, no longer had to look as if they would last for centuries. And aesthetic hierarchies were leveled: Applied art, for example, was just as much a serious artist's concern as "high" art. Out of this innovation, the modern poster was born.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, an original of that period, was one of the outstanding inventors of the poster. His were seen all over Paris. And then he exhibited them alongside his paintings. On one occasion, he even insisted that a poster of his should not be "improved" for an exhibition by having the lettering removed.

The 20th century has valued his posters, and his lithographs no less than his paintings. A fine American collection of Lautrec prints and posters, that of Irene and Howard Stein, is currently on exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta through June 14. It includes the poster shown here.

The woman skater, represented with such economical elegance as a symbol to advertise the arts and literary magazine La Revue Blanche, was Misia Godebski. She was the wife of one its publishers, Thade Natanson.

Mr. Natanson, a strong advocate of the latest ideas, was a friend of Lautrec. He was to sum up the artist's independent attitudes thus: "Throughout his life his true nobility lay in the fact that it meant more to him to satisfy himself, which was not easily done, than to achieve success."

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