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Popular Culture

Learn about the influence of early forms of posters and advertising on art.


Divan Japonais

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
(French, 1864–1901)

1893. Lithograph, composition: 31 15/16 x 23 3/4" (81.2 x 60.3 cm); sheet: 31 15/16 x 24 1/2" (81.2 x 62.2 cm)

The owner of the cabaret depicted in Divan Japonais commissioned Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster to celebrate the cabaret’s reopening after refurbishment. The three figures in the poster were good friends of the artist—prominent members of the Parisian performance and literary scene who would have been widely recognized by audiences of the day. The bespectacled man is Edouard Dujardin, art critic and founder of a literary magazine. The central female figure is Jane Avril, a famous cancan dancer. Another well-known entertainer, Yvette Guilbert, performs on stage in the background. Although her head is cropped and her face not visible, she would have been recognized by the long black gloves that were her signature accessory.

To request, or the request for, the production of a work of art.

The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.

Rise of the Poster
Lithographed posters proliferated during the 1890s due to technical advances in color printing and the relaxation of laws restricting the placement of posters. Dance halls, café-concerts, and festive street life invigorated nighttime activities. Toulouse-Lautrec’s brilliant posters, made as advertisements, captured the vibrant appeal of the prosperous Belle Époque.

Fun Fact!
Toulouse-Lautrec took up lithography at a high point in its history, when technical advances in color printing and new possibilities in scale led to a proliferation of relatively inexpensive posters and prints, which were eagerly snatched up by middle-class collectors. In his brief career (he died in his 30s), Toulouse-Lautrec created more than 350 prints and 30 posters—as well as lithographed theater programs and covers for books and sheet music—all of which brought his avant-garde visual language into a broad public arena.