1 March 2017
From 3 March until 11 June 2017, the Van Gogh Museum is devoting itself to 'Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street' – a major exhibition of work from its own fin-de-siècle print collection.
Over 250 prints will be on display, including iconic works by Bonnard, Chéret, Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec, and world-famous posters like Le Chat Noir and Le Moulin Rouge. They will be shown alongside paintings, historical photographs and decorative objects. In this way, the exhibition will offer visitors a glimpse of the cosmopolitan life of fin-de-siècle Paris, the ‘artistic capital of the world’ at the time. The exhibition design is by Maarten Spruyt and Tsur Reshef.
The Van Gogh Museum manages one of the finest collections of fin-de-siècle printmaking in the world. It has been collecting intensively in this area since 2000, resulting in an extensive body of some 1,800 prints, posters and artist’s books. These works, which are normally kept in storage and, because of their sensitivity to light are only displayed sporadically and on a small scale, can be seen in all their glory from 3 March onwards in the Van Gogh Museum’s exhibition wing.
Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street highlights this rich collection, full of rare prints and colourful posters. The finest works by artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859–1923), Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Jules Chéret (1836–1832) will be on display, including world-famous works like Le Chat Noir (Steinlen, 1896) and Le Moulin Rouge (Toulouse-Lautrec, 1891).
At first, printmaking was primarily used in France to reproduce artworks as accurately as possible for a broad public. This changed radically in the second half of the nineteenth century, when each print began to be viewed as an artwork in its own right. The fin de siècle (1890–1905) was the heyday of printmaking: virtually the entire avant-garde experimented intensively with the different techniques, resulting in marvellous and innovative works of art. Prints, posters and even illustrations for cheap magazines reached every layer of Parisian society. Prints served not only as autonomous artworks in elite circles, they could also be admired in the French capital’s streets and boulevards.
Visitors to Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street journey through the different layers of fin-de-siècle society in which prints played a role. These two opposing worlds of printmaking – the luxuriously decorated interiors of the elite on the one hand and the sprawling boulevards and titillating nightlife on the other – are brought to life by Maarten Spruyt and Tsur Reshef’s exhibition design. The way Parisians looked at prints in 1900 is an important strand running through the presentation: from the almost meditative attention of the collector to the fleeting glance of the passer-by. Prints in Paris 1900 shows the graphic material alongside paintings, historical photographs and decorative objects. The result is an overarching story of the world of Paris printmaking around 1900, which no previous exhibition has told in such a complete way.
Darkness and decadence
The presentation opens on the lower floor of the exhibition wing with the sophisticated artistic circles of the fin de siècle, in which the prints were kept and viewed in the intimacy of richly decorated interiors. Four such interiors have been recreated specially for the exhibition, based on fin-de-siècle examples. A particularly imposing exhibit is the rarely loaned Bibliothèque designed by François-Rupert Carabin in 1890 (Musée d’Orsay): an exuberantly decorated bookcase several metres tall with carvings of nude women, in which valuable books and prints belonging to a private collector were stored. The private existence of such prints meant that artists felt freer to explore darker or more titillating themes.
On the upper floor, visitors enter a completely different world: the darkness and decadence of the beau monde interior gives way to the fleeting impressions and visual spectacle of modern street life, in which artistic posters, sheet music and magazine illustrations with their bright colours, large letters and powerful silhouettes, vie for the passer-by’s attention. Posters are displayed on walls set in historic Paris street scenes. The highlight is Steinlen’s poster The Street, which, with an area of 7.5m2, is a genuine ‘fresco for the masses’. Other life-sized posters with the likenesses of enigmatic celebrities tempt passers-by into the city’s nightlife.
The journey is rounded off by a final interior in which visitors can see how the same fashionable collectors took the more public kind of printmaking, intended for the streets of Paris, back into the interior, where it was stored in specially made cabinets or hung on the wall as decoration. A variety of printing techniques, lastly, are presented in a separate technical room, with the original lithography press of the artistic master printer Auguste Clot (1858–1936) as the main attraction.
Richly illustrated catalogue
The exhibition Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street is accompanied by a richly illustrated, large-format catalogue written by Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho, the museum’s Curator of Prints and Drawings. The publication is based on years of intensive research into the worlds of printmaking during the French fin de siècle. The book is available in Dutch, English, French and German and will be distributed worldwide. A separate print of Félix Vallotton’s 1896 woodcut Laziness (La paresse), 25 x 33 cm, is included as a special gift for readers.
192 pages, 38 x 25.3 cm, 185 illustration, € 45.00. Publisher: Mercatorfonds, Brussels.
Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street has been made possible by the Vincent van Gogh Foundation. The Vincent van Gogh Foundation and Fonds 21 contributed to the website that preceded the exhibition. Heineken, partner of the Van Gogh Museum, has also contributed to this exhibition. The Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund supported Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho in 2016 with a special curator’s stipend.