Set on the banks of the river Tarn in southern France, the historic French city of Albi is rich in the Languedoc style of architecture, featuring red brick and tiles, of which the Cathedral of Sainte Cecile and the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec are particularly fine examples. In 2010, the old episcopal city around the cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and now Albi is back in the news as the museum dedicated to the artist best-known for his portrayals of the bohemian life of Paris of the late nineteenth century has reopened after extensive refurbishment.
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In the very heart of the city's historical centre is the prestigious fortress known as the Palais de la Berbie with its thick, high walls and formal gardens. Originally built as a stronghold in the thirteenth century, this monumental building was transformed and enlarged by successive prelates until the eighteenth century when it had become the stately palace that today bears testimony to the bygone power of the Bishops of Albi.
The building first became a museum in 1905, with the Toulouse-Lautrec galleries being inaugurated in 1922 thanks to a bequest by the maestro's parents. Now the great halls of the Palais house the world's largest collection of the painter's works. Over 1,000 works including paintings, lithographs, drawings and preparatory studies provide a comprehensive and well-documented view of Albi's best-known son, perfectly illustrating each of the styles and talents of the multi-faceted and innovative painter.
Some of his most famous works are on display, arranged in chronological order, including Femme tirant son bas (Woman pulling up her stocking), l'Anglaise du Star, La Modiste (The dressmaker) and le Divan Japonais (The Japanese couch). There are also early works, portraits, scenes of the bohemian life of Montmartre, the theatres and cabarets of Paris and the French capital's brothels, as well as a collection of posters by the French artist devoted to the stars of the Parisian night with settings as mythical as the Moulin Rouge, the Moulin de la Galette and Le Chat Noir.
The ambitious restoration work lasted 11 years and has put the museum on a par with other great contemporary museums; new spaces and facilities have been added and the museum now boasts an auditorium, educational workshops, documentation centre and archives, gift shop and disabled access to the whole tour. In addition to the works of Toulouse-Lautrec, the museum has expanded the collection by purchases of other works including the collection of Maurice Joyant, friend of the Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as with loans from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and with an older art collection including works by Francesco Guardi and Georges de La Tour.
The rooms on the first floor, located around the 'court of honour' now house the final displays in the Toulouse-Lautrec collection, while on the second floor the works of other modern artists – Degas, Bonnard, Vuillard... – are showcased and the Stainville wing is home to the collection of drawings. In the basement there is a temporary exhibition hall, with three smaller display rooms and a gallery for small-format works. The first temporary exhibition opens on May 26 and is dedicated to the masters of Japanese prints; in September a new exhibition La Belle Époque de Jules Cheret will open dedicated to the artist known as the father of poster art.