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The Barker Code
of Color/Fabric Representation

Museum Masterpieces

Jane Avril

Homage to “Jane Avril” by Toulouse-Lautrec (2009) mixed media, 24 x 17½.

“Jane Avril” is a lithograph in five colors, 50½ by 37 inches, done in 1893 and on display at the San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, California.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French aristocrat. He lived from 1864 to 1901.

Briefly described: Jane Avril is portrayed doing a high kick on the left side of the picture. She has yellow hair pulled up under her black hat, a pebbled blouse of gray and black and a long orange skirt which covers two petticoats, one white and one yellow. She wears long black gloves, stockings and shoes. She is up on a stage that is hinted at with light green curtains and floorboards. The bass player is shown at the lower left behind the green curtain of the orchestra pit. The head of the bass with its pegs is elongated to become a border around the whole piece and the man’s hand holds it in front of a stylized music score. His head has a wild mass of hair, an overly large ear, and there is a hint of glasses for his eyes.

More about the painting: “Jane Avril” is a publicity poster for Jane Avril’s debut at the Jardin de Paris. Avril grew up poor, beaten and was confined for a while to a mental hospital. When she was released at age 16, she headed straight to the Latin Quarter of Paris and within several years was able to support herself with her dancing. Beautiful and shy, she developed a more refined style of dancing and even when doing the cancan was able to convey that shyness which made her dancing quite a contrast to the vulgarity and brashness of other dancers. In this poster Toulouse-Lautrec manipulates the head of the musician, the bass violin and the sheet music as if to echo the excitement and rhythm of the dance, the flounce of her skirt and the kick of her foot.

More about the artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born into a titled family which had land and wealth. At the ages of 12 and 14 he broke first one and then the other leg in childhood mishaps. Neither leg grew after the break, probably because of a genetic disorder called pycnodysostosis. As an adult he had the torso of a man but stood only 4 1/2 feet tall. His artistic abilities were recognized early on and after finishing his training, he took up the bohemian lifestyle in Montmartre, Paris. He had a gift for capturing ordinary people at work or relaxing. Toulouse-Lautrec captured the spirit and emotion of “la belle époque” in Paris with his posters and portraits but his alcoholism led to an early death at the age of 36.

SallyB’s comments: The flash of the orange skirt is what called me to this picture, but I later became intrigued by the bass player. No one seems to pay attention to him, but he has a lot of character and style.