Compelling Art of French Poster Chic

Article excerpt

Byline: By Alan Sykes

Ooh la la! Alan Sykes reviews the latest blockbuster exhibition at the Bowes Museum.

The Bowes Museum is using innovative blockbuster exhibitions as an effective way of hugely increasing its visitor numbers.

Director Adrian Jenkins is keen to see the annual attendance at 120,000 in the next year ( up from the doldrums of 65,000 visitors a year ago when Durham County Council managed the place.

As he puts it: "One of our problems is that some people think we're a stately home and they only need to visit every five years or so, when we're in fact a museum with regular additions and special exhibitions that make it worth coming twice a year or more."

This autumn's reason for visiting is a compelling one. Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of the French Poster is largely a recreation of an exhibition of French posters that was shown at a variety hall in central London in 1894.

This exhibition was one of the first opportunities the British public had of seeing contemporary art from the continent. By all accounts they liked what they saw.

The posters, although advertising a huge range of products from ink, hats, bicycles, cabarets, books and clothes to Dubonnet and soap, were also already being sold as collectors' items. Prices apparently ranged from pounds 4 for Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge, down to a few shillings. Most are in almost mint condition, with the colours still bright and clear.

It is interesting to note that sex was already being used in advertising, and to advertise the strangest things. …

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