Picasso in the world of Lautrec

© TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, Henri de. La Rousse in a White Blouse, 1889. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) never met. By the time the youthful Picasso first visited Paris in October 1900, Lautrec was very ill and died the following year at 36. But Lautrec’s radical work had a powerful impact on Picasso’s early work.

Picasso/Lautrec, an exhibition at Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, explores the affinities and common themes in the works of these masters of modernism. Curated by Paloma Alarcó and Francisco Calvo Serraller, the exhibition is the first study of Lautrec’s radical approach of combining high and low culture, as well as art and advertising, and its influence on Picasso as a young artist.

Here, Ms. Alarcó reflects on what inspired this unique look at the connections between these two artists.

How did you come to curate the first exhibition that examines the relationship between the works of Pablo Picasso and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec?

In our exhibition program, we seek to provide a more in-depth look at our collections. And because we have works by both painters, I have always had the idea of comparing these two great artists. The exhibition poses the question, how did Picasso view Lautrec? They never met because Lautrec was of a previous generation. Although they were in Paris at the same time when Picasso arrived in 1900, Lautrec was already quite ill, and he died in 1901.

Picasso was fascinated by Lautrec’s radical approach, his modernity. Picasso has been the subject of all kinds of studies, but although leading historians have always mentioned his interest in the Frenchman himself, Picasso’s interest in Lautrec’s work has never been looked at in its own right. That’s because Lautrec has remained something of a legend, and no one has examined in any depth the importance of his work to the beginnings of modernism, as is the case with Picasso.

Also, I have found that there is a key difference between these two universal artists. Lautrec’s career as an artist lasted only 15 years because he died so young—whereas Picasso’s career spanned seven decades.

So the question remains what would Lautrec have done if he had lived longer? Even so, it must be said that Picasso’s creative force is very hard to beat. Picasso outdoes everyone. The two of them had a similar view on life, and they had the same interests. You can quite clearly see their very deep affinity and that they are on the same wavelength.


“He is a creative sensation who turns anything he touches into something new, even the handlebars of a bike. He is pure creation. In my opinion, after Michelangelo comes Picasso.”


What might visitors to the exhibition find most surprising?

What most surprised me is the sense of humor shown by the two artists. Everything has a somewhat comic tone. The fact that Lautrec started out as a draftsman and illustrator gives him a humorous spirit in trying to parody everything, from a brothel to a cabaret. He has a certain “caricature-ish” bent that can have the effect of parody at times.

If you had to choose one work that represents Lautrec’s influence on Picasso, which would it be?

Well, that’s a difficult question. The exhibition contains over one hundred works that feature themes that were of interest to both. It’s very hard to choose just one work by these two heavyweights of the painting world, who are also very different.

Lautrec was one of the first to break with the naturalist and realist tradition. This trend is reflected in Impressionism which, in turn, can be considered one of the first artistic movements of the modern age.

But Lautrec is not at all interested in Impressionism: He sees it as entirely naturalist painting. He relies on his skill as an illustrator and caricaturist to create a depiction that is much farther removed from reality. He takes his characteristic synthetic and two-dimensional language further when he starts making posters and lithographs. His graphic works are still more radical than his strictly artistic works. He was the first to make an advertising poster into a work of art.

This combination of styles, this mixing of graphic design, painting and drawing, creates a language that stands apart from what came before, and it really breaks new ground.

Picasso, meanwhile, is so hard to define. He is a creative sensation who turns anything he touches into something new, even the handlebars of a bike. He is pure creation. In my opinion, after Michelangelo comes Picasso.

J.P. Morgan is committed to sponsoring not-for-profit activities, art and cultural organizations, and sporting events in the communities served by the company. We are proud to be a corporate partner of the Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza for the fifth consecutive year. Picasso/Lautrec runs from October 2017 through January 21, 2018.

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