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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 3023

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (11:08): The Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia had its well-attended parliamentary night last night. The exhibition contains more than 110 works from that brilliant French artist, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The National Gallery of Australia is exhibiting a collection of his works from 32 galleries around the world, taking you on a journey through his career as an artist living in the hills of what was then an outer suburb of Paris, Montmartre, to the city.

The Lautrec exhibition has run from 14 December and will continue to 2 April. It is the first major retrospective exhibition devoted to the art—the paintings, drawings, posters and prints—of 19th century French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Australia. Ron Radford AM, the Director of the National Gallery of Australia, is owed great credit for bringing these works together. It just shows you what a significant, important and thoughtful country Australia is if such a great French artist can be acknowledged through such a serious exhibition of his works.

Radford spoke eloquently last night to parliamentarians, giving us an insight into the commitment required to bring an exhibition of such magnitude to Australia. I want to thank personally Simon Elliott, the assistant director of curatorial services for the incredibly detailed explanation he gave to me while I was walking through the exhibition. It gave me an understanding of the many layers of Toulouse-Lautrec's work.

In Australia, we are very fortunate that we find ourselves able to view exhibitions such as this. It is through the efforts of the whole team at the National Gallery of Australia that all Australians are able to witness, in our national capital, this and many other exhibitions. The NGA has almost 800,000 visitors a year on average. It has more than 165,000 works in its collection, which is double the number of any state gallery collection, to the value of $4.7 billion. It is by far the most valuable art collection in Australia.

Its Masterpieces from Paris exhibition in 2010 broke the national record for art exhibition attendance, with nearly 500,000 people coming in four months. Indeed, the National Gallery can proudly claim five of the 15 best attended exhibitions in Australia. The gallery's range embraces all cultures and ages. Last year, 400 centuries of Indian painting jostled with Australia's own Fred Williams. Now Toulouse-Lautrec's sketches and posters of fin-de-siecle Paris sit side-by-side with the indigenous art of Vanuatu.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864 and died, too early, just before his 37th birthday. In his brief life, he managed to capture the energy of a city at the dawn of modernity. There is a wonderful early, grainy, black-and-white film of Paris in those years that brings that home to you. His art married the high tradition of the European impressionists—although he was never exclusively in that school himself—with the gritty underbelly of Paris. He was enthralled by the demi-monde, the dives and haunts of the underworld, the cafe concerts, the masked balls, the dance halls and the bordellos of late 19th century Paris. The frissonbetween the men about town, who are portrayed there, and the desperate prostitutes of some of the bordellos was something that he really brought to life in his work.

According to the NGA booklet:

The exhibition will trace Toulouse-Lautrec's career from his earliest works to his extraordinary depictions of the Paris social scene, the dance halls, the cafe-concerts, the brothels and theatres. This he did in an insightful way, capturing the essence of his Parisian characters and haunts. Toulouse-Lautrec's subject matter was to become thoroughly modern and he became an influential figure in the evolution of the art of the twentieth century.

One of the things that all of us know implicitly, but do not say, is that of course Toulouse-Lautrec's poster art began that whole popular art medium. It is something imprinted in practically every westerner's mind. The booklet continues:

Toulouse-Lautrec will examine the artist's abilities as an acute observer of Parisian life, his skill as a draughtsman, his experimentation in composition and the brilliance of his technical execution in all media. The exhibition will shed new light on Toulouse-Lautrec through an examination of his involvement in Parisian culture—the high life and the low life.

I congratulate NGA chairman, Alan Myers, and all involved in the National Gallery of Australia on their continuing representation of high culture in Australia and their great work on behalf of the national capital.