“Spectacle and Leisure in Paris: Degas to Mucha” at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

by Tola Porter

Georges Meunier (French, 1869–1942), Folies-Bergère, Loïe Fuller, 1898. Lithograph, 48 x 33" (image). Collection of Mary Strauss. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

The past needs a storyteller. In the “Spectacle and Leisure in Paris: Degas to Mucha” exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus in St. Louis, MO, the fascinating story of Paris at the turn-of-the-century is told. That era hungered for, and rejoiced in, leisure and the spectacles that accompanied it: the bawdy café-concert, the fantastical dances of Loïe Fuller, the invention of cinema, the speed of the racetrack in the Bois de Boulogne, strolling on Baron Hausmann’s newly-constructed broad boulevards in order to see and be seen. More traditional cultural leisure is also represented in the show including opera, theater, and ballet, indicating that popular entertainments mingled with the fine arts in a layered cultural city-scape.

Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860–1939), Médée (Medea), 1898. Lithograph, 81 x 29 1/4" (image). Collection of Mary Strauss.

The exhibition design features several tall triangular elements that populate the gallery space; they stand in for the Morris columns that were used in the late 1800’s throughout Paris to display posters. The posters by Toulouse-Lautrec, Chéret, Pal (Jean de Paleologu), Mucha, and Meunier represent that innovative and ephemeral medium that democratized fine art and brought it to the streets of Paris. The arrangement of the triangular ‘columns’ allows the visitor to stroll through the show like a Parisian flaneur.

Jules Chéret (French, 1836–1932), Folies-Bergère, La Loïe Fuller, 1893. Lithograph, approx. 48 x 34". Samuel B. & Charles B. Edison Theatre, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Mary Wickes in memory of her mother and father, 1973.

Prints, pastels, and film clips are also represented, helping to tell the larger story of progressive modernism happening at that time. The art of Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and others reveal the force of urban modernity that inspired the desire for illusion and spectatorship, and technological advances that pushed the arts towards the moving image.

Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947), Le canotage (Boating), from Album d’estampes originales de la Galerie Vollard (Album of Original Prints from the Galerie Vollard), 1896–97. Color lithograph, 16 7/16 x 22 7/16". St. Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 31:1942. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Several key loans from St. Louis private collections enhance the exhibition and the sense of local pride. An accompanying catalog is published by the Kemper Art Museum, edited by curator Elizabeth C. Childs, Etta and Mark Steinberg Professor of Art History and Chair, Department of Art History & Archaeology, with essays by Childs, Colin Burnett, assistant professor of film and media studies; and graduate students in the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901), Divan Japonais, from the series Les Mâitres de l'Affiche (Masters of the Poster), 1893, published 1896. Lithograph, 15 3/4 x 11 1/2". Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Melissa Henyan Redler, 1981.


Spectacle and Leisure in Paris: Degas to Mucha” is on view at the Kemper Art Museum through May 21, 2017.  The Museum is located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth Boulevards. Regular hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. the first Friday of the month. The Museum is closed Tuesdays. For more information, call 314/ 935-4523; visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu or follow the Museum on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.
Tola Porter is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis.