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TO JULY 31

The National Gallery of Art’s “Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre” exhibition shows how the diminutive aristocrat responded to the creative denizens of this butte above Paris. With wavering, expressive lines, Toulouse-Lautrec described the inhabitants of dance halls and cafe concerts, periodically entering into furias for specific performers whom he’d obsessively watch and record. Through the vivid use of symbols, Toulouse-Lautrec reinforced his subjects’ reputations: A blond topknot signified the dancer La Goulue; a wide-brimmed hat and black cape denoted the roughneck Aristide Bruant; and long, sinewy black gloves represented the chanteuse Yvette Guilbert. One longing he never quelled was for la rousse, or redheaded women. They crop up throughout his oeuvre, not so much representing a specific person as a desire. (The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge is pictured.) One early portrait shows a young woman with copper-colored hair worn low on the forehead, obscuring her eyes and emphasizing her sensual mouth. (Reportedly, when the model dyed her hair brown, Lautrec lost interest in her.) The famous dancer Jane Avril regularly commissioned posters from Toulouse-Lautrec to advertise her performances. The artist included her in a painting of the Moulin Rouge in which her chignon glows like embers against the lurid green background, serving as a compositional device that draws the viewer’s eye to the center of the piece. The artist might have found some outlet for his obsessions in Montmartre’s government-sanctioned brothels: One intimate painting shows two ladies, one sitting on the edge of a bed, the other still asleep; although the latter’s face is turned away, her luxurious red hair spills over the pillow, as if at last released—like Toulouse-Lautrec’s passion. The show is on view Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., to Sunday, July 31, at the National Gallery of Art, 4th & Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Hetty Lipscomb)