In prints. This is a lithograph, a

In this lesson, you will explore the posters of 19th-century French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and discover what these meant to both the world of art and the world of advertising. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Paris in the 19th century was an exciting place. But don’t just take my word for it – ask Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a famous painter and printmaker, whose images captured the fascinating world of Parisian nightlife. Granted, several artists of this time period painted scenes of Paris bars and clubs, so what makes Toulouse-Lautrec so special? Well, for one, we’re not going to look at his paintings. We’re looking at his posters. Yeah – posters.The world of advertising was once very different than it is now, and Toulouse-Lautrec was amongst the first to really bring true artistic skill to the world of printed posters. In some ways, I guess you could call him the poster boy of art! Get it? ‘Cause he did posters? Well, here’s his art.

Style of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Posters

Toulouse-Lautrec popularized the lithograph
Lithograph poster

Okay, here’s a poster of Toulouse-Lautrec’s. You’ve probably seen images in this style; Toulouse-Lautrec set off a major trend with these prints. This is a lithograph, a specific type of print made with a flat plate, etched with a water-repelling substance that attracts ink.

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This process had to be repeated for various colors. This poster, for example, is a 4-color print, with red, black, yellow and green inks being used and then the natural white of the paper.Stylistically, Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints have a similar feel.

They rely on only a few colors and feel very flat without any real attempt to produce shading or depth. There is an almost minimalist sense to his prints. In fact, Toulouse-Lautrec was known for using the white of the paper more than most printmakers. Yet, there is an undeniable appeal to these prints. The compositions are simply artistic in the presentation of figures and the use of space.And let’s not pretend that part of the appeal doesn’t come from the subjects: scenes of Parisian nightlife – bars, dance halls, clubs.

Considering the subjects, Toulouse-Lautrec’s preference for flat compositions makes sense; this is hardly the stuff that many artists would devote to oil and canvas. Nightlife is popular culture, in contrast to the high-minded, civilized nature of professional painting. So, Toulouse-Lautrec used a popular medium: posters, and developed a more folksy style.

Social Role of Posters


Now, while these are fascinating works of art, let’s not forget what their original purpose was. These are posters, designed to advertise certain nightclubs, bars or cafes. Take this print – a poster advertising the caf; called Divan Japonais.

In the image, a famous entertainer and a well-known author sit together watching a performance at the caf;. Now, the average person would not have seen this print like this.

Posters on display in art gallery

They would have seen it like this.

Poster glued to brick wall

And don’t forget, the great thing about prints is that are reproducible, so really the average 19th-century Parisian would see this.


So much easier to take in. All you need to know is the name of the caf; and that it’s one of Paris’ hotspots.

Toulouse-Lautrec brilliantly captured what the caf; is selling, an evening of entertainment, with an image, not words.Toulouse-Lautrec became so well known for his posters, that these posters were actually able to create fame. Let me show you what I mean. This is the dancer Jane Avril.

She’s developed something of a reputation in Paris’ entertainment industry and has just been hired by France’s most famous nightclub, the Moulin Rouge. Now, the Moulin Rouge was headlining her in a major event and needed her to be more than just well-known. They needed her to be famous. So, they hired Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to create a poster advertising her performance.

Photo of Jane Avril

People associated Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints with the finest entertainment venues in France; he had worked for the Moulin-Rouge several times before.

As a result, Jane Avril’s popularity skyrocketed overnight. People saw her advertised on a Toulouse-Lautrec poster, and she became famous.

Lesson Summary

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was an artist and printmaker in late 19th-century France, who quickly became one of the most recognizable names in advertising for his posters of Parisian nightlife. These lithograph prints were noted for the sparse amount of text, the wide, flat planes of basic colors, and the very artistic sense of composition. Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters presented the vibrant nightlife of Parisian bars, cafes and dance halls.In terms of advertising, this was very different than most text-heavy ads of the time.

It’s no surprise that these became so popular, even to the point of making the subjects of these prints celebrities overnight. So, let me try this one more time – advertising and art became closer than ever before during the 19th century. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the indisputable poster boy.

Nailed it.

Learning Outcomes

Your expanding knowledge of the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec could allow you to:

  • Highlight the accomplishments of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Interpret the style of his posters
  • Convey the purpose of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters

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