From El Greco to Toulouse-Lautrec: Must-See Exhibitions in Paris

From El Greco to Toulouse-Lautrec: Must-See Exhibitions in Paris
The leaves change in Paris, the streets get a little easier to navigate and the museums open new exhibitions. This is autumn in Paris, one of the best seasons to be in the City of Light, but then again, is there ever a bad time? For the art lover this is the perfect time to take in the walls of the museums filled with works by marquee artists. The current exhibitions are dedicated to the life’s work of artists that are rarely seen in such a grand scale in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec, El Greco, and of course Leonardo da Vinci are a few that should be at the top of anyone’s list along with a few others. The life of Toulouse-Lautrec is one of tragedy, alcoholism and early death. Focusing on a population of Paris that many scoffed, he was able to bring them to life with his use of color. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born to an aristocratic family; in fact, his parents were cousins and this would lead to many of his health problems. As a teenager, he fractured his right leg and this problem, coupled with his genetic makeup, caused him to never fully grow. His legs would stay child size and his torso of a man. At 4”8’ and shut up inside most of the time as a young boy, he began to sketch which was noticed quickly by his mother. Moving to Paris, he discovered Montmartre where he would remain for over two decades. Meeting fellow struggling artists like Vincent van Gogh and Suzanne Valadon, Henri would find a support and a community he hadn’t found before. Shunned by women he would turn to the prostitutes of Pigalle where one encounter inspired him to take to his easel. His vast collection of works includes many of his paintings that look behind the curtain at the life of these women. He gave them a voice in his paintings depicting them in everyday tasks such as undressing and bathing. However, it was his foray into the Moulin Rouge that changed his course. Asked to create a poster for the new dance hall, he would sit in his reserved seat every night, paint the dancers and singers, and bring them to life in the posters for the venue. Jane Avril, Yvette Guilbert and Louis Weber would be depicted many times in images we know so well today. Looked down on by the artistic elite of Paris, he was once again left as an outsider. Today we know the Moulin Rouge through his eyes and those images will last generations. Dying at the young age of 36 due to his bouts with alcoholism and syphilis, Toulouse-Lautrec would go onto inspire the giants of the 20th century including Picasso. The exhibition at the Grand Palais focuses on the life of the young painter starting with a self-portrait of him as a young man and following until the end of his life. Toulouse-Lautrec was more than just a poster artist he was an artist of the everyday hidden people of Montmartre and for that, we are eternally grateful. The exhibition at the Grand Palais runs until 27 January; buy your tickets in advance and also download the app and audio guide before you arrive to enhance the exhibition. Also on view at the Grand Palais is the retrospective of legendary painter El Greco. Born in 1541, Doménikos Theotokópoulos would be given the nickname El Greco for his Greek heritage later in life but would still sign all his paintings with his birth name. Moving to Venice and Rome where Titian and Michelangelo reigned, he would work in dark rooms where he felt the ambiance helped guide his thoughts more than the light. This is how he would refine his painting style. It would be his final move to Spain that would shape the artist we know as El Greco. Focusing on religious iconography and hoping for large scale commissions, the unknown artist was rarely seen. When people did see his paintings, they thought he was crazy for his unusual style, so far removed from that of the masters. Today of course, we see him as a genius, a man well ahead of his time and one of the greats of the Renaissance. Seventy-five paintings have been amassed for the exhibition including three from the Musée du Louvre including Saint Louis, depicting the saint and former king as never before. Look closely at the Vision of Saint John; as soon as I saw it I thought it looked like it could be a Picasso. In fact, the El Greco painting is said to have inspired Picasso and Les Demoiselle d’Avignon. El Greco’s use of pastel and bright colors was striking at the time; today when you see this collection you would think they were from the 19th or 20th century, not from the 16th. The exhibition runs until 10 February, and also has an app to download before you arrive. I am a big believer in any of the audio guides to enhance your visit. You would have to be living under a Madonna of the Rocks for the last year to not know about the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Musée du Louvre. For ten years, Louvre curators Vincent Delieuvin, Department of Paintings, and Louis Frank, Department of Prints and Drawings, have been working to secure as many of the Renaissance master’s works for their landmark exhibition. Marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death in Ambroise, the year of…

Lead photo credit : Toulouse-Lautrec: Resolutely Modern. Image © Paris Official website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge