Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris with Helen Burnham

Museum Council

Helen Burnham, Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings, takes us behind the scenes of "Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris." 

You organized this exhibition with the Boston Public Library. How did this partnership come about, and how did it add to the exhibition?

This exhibition would not be possible without the partnership—the BPL is lending nearly half of the works in the show! Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director, and David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library, arranged the partnership, with Edward Saywell at the MFA and Beth Prindle at the BPL both playing integral roles. A key component of the show is the programming taking place in the BPL central and branch libraries.

How do you determine the value of the posters on view considering that they are not limited editions?

The rarity of these posters is determined by how many survived, their condition, and the quality of the impression, or the way ink registers on paper during the printing process. In this case, very few of the posters survived, and their condition reflects the fact that they were often printed on very thin paper and affixed to walls.

How did you decide which pieces by contemporaries of Toulouse-Lautrec to include in the exhibition?

I looked to works in our collection and from nearby private collections. They needed to relate to the themes of the exhibition and be strong, evocative works of art.

What is your favorite print or drawing at the MFA?

My favorite work in the whole collection? That's a tough one. I have so many favorites. My favorite Toulouse-Lautrec in the show is At the Café la Mie, from about 1891. It's an oil sketch on paper board, and it could be called either a painting or a drawing. It portrays one of Toulouse-Lautrec's close friends with an unidentified woman of their circle, both playing the roles of drunken ne'er-do-wells. They are both seedy and sympathetic, a combination that seems to encapsulate a whole slice of life in Montmartre of the 1890s.