In the late 19th century, Montmartre went from being a marginal and impoverished area of Paris to becoming the place where artists, writers and bohemians lived, created and performed. You might say it all started in 1881 with 'Le Chat Noir', the cabaret that Rodolphe Salis founded. The shows they put on and the group Les Arts Incohérents, who poked fun at bourgeois pomposity and hypocrisy, attracted the avant-garde to the neighbourhood of steep, narrow streets.
'Toulouse-Lautrec and the Spirit of Montmartre' takes the figure of the artist of the night as a starting point to approach modern French art of the late 1800s. That's when drawing ceased to be a simple preparatory step and became a form of art in its own right, and when there were plenty of ephemeral productions on paper to be found, such as posters, illustrations in books and magazines, sheet music designs, and more.
Decked out in velvety curtains, wooden portals, teardrop lamps, cobblestones projected on the floor and red walls, the CaixaForum rooms transport you to 130 years in the past, where you're surrounded by dancers, smoke and absinthe glasses. You're immersed in the ambience, complete with cancan music and 'Le Chat Noir' by Aristide Bruant.
Featuring more than 300 works by a score of artists, the exhibition aims to contextualise Lautrec's hectic life and intense career. Some of his most emblematic drawings – 'Divan Japonais', 'Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine' and 'Moulin Rouge: La Goulue' – are exhibited alongside works by contemporaries such as Ferdinand Bac, Hermann-Paul and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, as well as Louis Legrand, Charles Maurin and Vincent Van Gogh, among others.
During this period, Montmartre was much more than a neighbourhood of brothels, theatres and concert halls – it was a state of mind, a hotbed of artistic creativity that was a sign of everything that was to come with the turn of the new century.