Tate Britain  Linbury Galleries
5 October 2005 – 15 January 2006

Edgar Degas, Walter Sickert and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are the three leading artists in a major exhibition at Tate Britain which explores the creative dialogue between British and French artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The exhibition, which is sponsored by the British Land Company PLC, shows the influence of the work of French artists in Britain, but also identifies the largely unrecognised exchange of artistic ideas between Britain and France during this seminal period in the development of modern art.

The exhibition features more than 100 works, including about twenty each by Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec. Among the many iconic images is Degas’s L’Absinthe 1875-1876, lent by the Musée d’Orsay and not shown in a London exhibition since the nineteenth century. Such works, characterised by their daring technique and colour allied to a choice of starkly modern subject matter, elicited powerful responses from a subsequent generation of artists in Britain and France. While Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec are the artists at the heart of the exhibition, it also presents innovative depictions of modern life by other prominent painters, such as Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and James Whistler, as well as now less widely-celebrated figures including James Tissot, Henri Fantin-Latour and William Rothenstein.

Featured works by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec are those that are known to have been exhibited in British galleries at the time and those which hung in British collections. These are displayed across four sections. The first analyses the 1870s work of Degas along with his French and British followers. At that time, perhaps the finest collection of Degas’s work anywhere was in Brighton. The second section looks at Degas’s work in the 1880s, when it became widely known through exhibitions which had a significant impact on a group of younger British painters, among them Sickert. These artists exhibited in the London Impressionists exhibition of 1889, a show which can be seen in part as homage to Degas.

The 1890s are the subject of the third section, a decade in which French culture became increasingly linked in Britain with the notion of modern decadence. It was in this period that L’Absinthe caused an outcry and Toulouse-Lautrec had the largest exhibition of his lifetime, in London’s Regent Street in 1898. It reflects the parallels between Toulouse-Lautrec’s imagery and that of Sickert and his contemporaries. The exhibition ends with a reflection on Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec’s legacy, analysing Sickert’s increasing reputation in France in the early twentieth century and looking particularly at the close relationship between intimate paintings of interiors by Sickert, Bonnard and Vuillard, each of them redolent with intense psychological power.

The show features paintings, pastels, drawings, prints and sculpture and includes loans from public collections in Europe and the United States, including those from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as important and rare loans from private collections.

The exhibition is curated by Anna Gruetzner Robins, Reader in the History of Art at the University of Reading, and Richard Thomson, Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh, and organised by Martin Myrone, Curator, Tate Britain. It tours to the Phillips Collection, Washington DC, from February to May 2006. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition.

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