Northwestern art history professor S. Hollis Clayson and 13 NU undergraduates presented the exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec Prints: Art at the Edges of Modernity Wednesday evening at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum.
The exhibition opened on Jan. 13 in the Block Museum’s Katz Gallery and features the dedicated prints of French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The students worked closely with Professor Clayson in her art history course, Museums: The Fin De Siècle Poster earlier this school year to curate the exhibition. Andra and Irwin Press agreed to lend their personal prints of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work to the museum.
Clayson, who has given numerous lectures on the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and is a renowned award-winning scholar of 19th century art and the author of countless books, addressed the audience in her lecture, titled “Wicked Paris”. Clayson discussed the achievements of Toulouse-Lautrec, as he received recognition, popularity and praise from both the avant-garde art critics and the mass commercial audience of 19th century France.
“Although night club posters are his signature works of the popular imagination, it’s important to recall or to learn how diverse his artwork actually was,” Clayson said.
Clayson acknowledged the study of the more than 6,000 pieces Toulouse-Lautrec was able to produce in his short-lived 37 years and his influence on the art industry as defining the modern image of celebrity through activity in the art scene of avant garde printers.
Clayson also noted the steps she and her students took to curate the show.
“We were able to begin the process of making choices about what pieces the students wanted to work with, why and in what combination,” Clayson said. “Then we revved up the geographical spread of our investigation and roared off to New York City for a day to the Museum of Modern Art to see their own Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.”
Some of the students discussed the experience of traveling to New York City and their own experiences working with the prints as they began instillation at the Block Museum.
“A lot of cool insight we got from that one show and what the pieces might look like and how we can make that better,” said Communication senior Tracy Kopulsky. “What also is really cool is that we were struck by how much better these prints that we were working with were than the ones that were in the MoMA collection.”
Irwin and Andra Press, the donors of the Toulouse-Lautrec prints, attended the event. As Chicago residents, the two have attended many exhibition openings at the Block Museum. Irwin Press, an undergraduate of Northwestern, is on the Block Museum’s Board of Advisors and a collector of art. Press noted the difficulty for museums to typically acquire higher-quality prints and the restriction on museum curators to turn down donated pieces despite lack in quality.
“We, as collectors, feel that we wait until we see a piece. We turned down a number of pieces because it’s just not the quality for us,” Press said. “Because we’re buying, we’re pickers.”
Following Clayson’s brief 30-minute lecture, the 13 undergraduate students gave further in-depth presentations of their research of individual prints to an audience of about 100 people in the Block auditorium.