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Cancan comes to Canberra with Toulouse-Lautrec show

THE dancers and drama of fin de siecle Paris will cancan into Canberra this year when the National Gallery of Australia launches a Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition as its summer blockbuster.

The nature of each year's exhibition is a closely guarded secret, but the Herald understands the gallery is negotiating to bring the works of the famous post-impressionist to the national capital for the 2012-13 summer period.

The gallery relies on its big summer exhibitions, which have featured works from the Italian Renaissance and ''Masterpieces from Paris'', to boost its bottom line, which has been hurt by the government's efficiency dividend stipulation that cultural institutions must reduce their costs by 1.5 per cent a year.

Last year, the gallery was forced to cut jobs and director Ron Radford has said fund-raising and corporate sponsorship are increasingly important parts of its funding model.

The exhibition will coincide with celebrations for the Centenary of Canberra next year, which are expected to bring a flood of tourists.

In 2010, more than 400,000 visitors saw the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition, the most successful the gallery has had.


The gallery already has several works on paper by Toulouse-Lautrec, which will probably be included in the larger exhibition.

It has one of Toulouse-Lautrec's most celebrated images, his 1893 poster of a Moulin Rouge cancan dancer, Jane Avril, which it acquired in 1996.

Avril was a troubled teenage runaway who, after a stint in a mental hospital, became one of the Moulin Rouge's most celebrated dancers. She also became a close friend, frequent subject and, possibly, a lover of the artist.

Nicole Kidman's character Satine in Baz Luhrmann's 2001 movie Moulin Rouge was inspired by Avril.

Last year, the gallery also acquired another well-known Toulouse-Lautrec image, his poster Divan Japonais. The image advertised another Parisian nightclub where Avril appeared.

A slender - if headless - Avril is visible on stage wearing long black gloves, observed by dancer Yvette Guilbert and her dandyish companion.

A spokeswoman for the gallery yesterday refused to confirm or deny the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.