In life, French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec didn't stand 5 feet. In death, though, he continues to cast a tall shadow. Central Ohioans will have the chance to view the painter's work beginning on Friday, when the Columbus Museum of Art opens "Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880–1910."

In life, French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec didn’t stand 5 feet.

In death, though, he continues to cast a tall shadow.

The painter and printmaker, with his provocative images of the sometimes-decadent Paris night life of the late 19th century, influenced countless artists in his day.

More than a century later, his colorful works — including portrayals of rowdy cabarets, sultry dance-hall girls and seedy brothels — have become ubiquitous.

“In some ways, Toulouse-Lautrec has suffered from too much success,” said Julia Frey, author of the biography Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life.

“His images are on dorm-room posters, coffee mugs, dish towels.”

Still, the “psychological acuity” in his depictions, Frey said, should not go unnoticed.

“He manages to make us feel his models’ striking personalities, sometimes in very few lines.”& amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; lt; /p>

Central Ohioans will have the chance to view the painter’s work beginning on Friday, when the Columbus Museum of Art opens “Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880–1910.”

A dozen posters by Toulouse-Lautrec form the centerpiece, but the exhibit also encompasses more than 150 oils, watercolors and lithographs by 97 postimpressionist artists — many of them contemporaries of Toulouse-


His posters were essentially advertisements, including those enticing Parisians to the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.

Both then and now, Frey said, a poster “has to stop you dead in the street.”

“You have to get the point immediately. And then it has to have something intriguing about it, so you stand there for a while thinking about it.”

For many artists of that time, such blatant commercialism represented uncharted — and uncomfortable — territory, said Dominique Vasseur, chief curator of the Columbus Museum of Art.

“If you were a trained artist,” he said, “I think you had your aspiration on showing your work in the (Paris) Salon and having rich people buy your paintings.”

Toulouse-Lautrec, however, was happy to apply his talents to promotion, beginning in 1891 with Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, his first poster for the Moulin Rouge.

“This was suddenly this new window of opportunity for him to have his work seen by thousands of people,” Vasseur said.

Other postimpressionists followed suit, said Ellen Lee, curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and a specialist in the period.

“It would take as much creativity or acumen to design a really effective poster that got people’s attention, that was witty, that showed the ability to draw or compose,” Lee said.

Although Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters are routinely exhibited today, the works of his contemporaries are less well-known.

Phillip Dennis Cate, curator of the upcoming exhibit, said about 90 percent of the “ one-of-a-kind” works (paintings or drawings, not prints) in “La Vie Moderne” haven’t been shown in the United States.

“The art world often likes to limit art history and create iconic heroes such as Toulouse-Lautrec while forgetting that there were numerous important and active artists at the same time,” Cate said.

One example is Henri Riviere, whose shadow-theater designs — cut-out figures that appeared as silhouettes and were created for Montmarte’s Chat Noir cabaret — were unknown to Vasseur.

“These were almost a prototype of moviemaking,” Vasseur said, “because there would be a script and backgrounds.”

What Riviere and the other lesser-known artists had in common with Toulouse-

Lautrec was an interest in, and an eye for, capturing the bohemian lifestyle of 19th-century Paris.

The legacy of Toulouse-Lautrec — whose life had, in Frey’s words, “a lot of plot” — might have benefited from the captivating details.

He was born in 1864 to an aristocratic family in southern France and, as a child, suffered health problems thought to stem from a genetic disorder. He broke thigh bones, which didn’t heal properly; and he might have suffered rickets.

Although he developed a normal-sized torso, he remained extremely short in adulthood — posing physical challenges that limited his participation in many activities and might have led him to art.

“He painted the people and the places he knew best — not only his family and their grand estates but also circuses and side-show performers, bars, dance halls and brothels,” Frey said.

The aristocrat, dwarf and friend of prostitutes died in 1901 at age 36, probably of alcoholism and perhaps syphilis.

“You can’t get much more plot than that,” Frey said.

Columbus marks the second stop in an eight-city tour for the exhibit.

“Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne” represents a departure for the museum, Vasseur said, in that the museum traditionally has focused on impressionism, not postimpressionism.

“We did ‘Renoir’s Women,’ ‘Degas Landscapes,’ the ‘In Monet’s Garden’ exhibitions,” he said. “ And our collection is very heavy in impressionism.”

The impressionists often created bucolic pastoral scenes, but Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries opted for lively views of Paris and its eclectic populace at work and at play.

“It’s in a sense trying to subvert what was traditional and accepted, and really get to the heart of what Paris as a city of great change was about,” Vasseur said.

And Toulouse-Lautrec, he noted, was “the poster boy for a lot of these disenfranchised people .?. ?. living on the margin of respectable Parisian society.”