Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was the great mythologizer of Montmartre, the licentious cauldron of Fin-de-Sìecle Paris. His first poster, Moulin Rouge / La Goulue (1891), revolutionized the art of lithography. For a frenzied ten years, until his death in 1901, he created magnificent art out of grotesquery, and designed poignant moments from within the heart of decadence. This fall’s auction offers one of the most surprising and stunning Lautrec collections we have ever been privileged to offer.
Both Lautrec’s first poster as well as his first lithograph, the Moulin Rouge design marked not only a new direction for the artist, but for art and advertising in general. It is a masterpiece in every respect of the word, magnificently capturing the essence of two popular performers at the music hall – the dancer La Goulue and her partner Valentin le Désossé. By leaving the paper blank, Lautrec captures dead center the tempting irony of the cancan.
One of the greatest lithographs Toulouse-Lautrec ever produced, and one of the rarest: this is 1 of just 100 signed impressions, and the first time we’ve seen in in 76 auctions. The contrast between bright, solid coloration and subtle, texture pastels is thrilling, as is the composition – an angular motion of tension and strangeness, but dappled by colors and forms into a charged and harmonious whole. Lautrec is portraying, on the right, William Tom Warrener (1861-1934), an English painter, “who has been a pupil of the Académie Julian and had lived in Paris since the mid-1880s; he was a frequent visitor to the Moulin-Rouge” (Adriani, p. 30). The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts adds that Warrener was the son of a rich coal dealer, and returned to the family business after his sojourn in painting. [Lautrec] gave the color an emotional dimension expressing the man’s attraction to and desire for the two young women he’s approaching. In this work Toulouse-Lautrec anticipates, in an unexpected way, Matisse’s use of color in 1905″ (Lautrec/Montreal, p. 30).
This is the very rare version (both Wittrock and Adriani recognize only two known copies) of the famous image of the chansonnier Bruant with text announcing the opening of his new cabaret. What distinguishes it is Bruant’s insolent stance: The point made is that we can recognize the famous performer not only despite his turning his back on us, but because of it.
“In Paris from the autumn of 1899 to the summer of 1900, [Lautrec] seemed to live his former existence, making paintings and prints and maintaining contact with friends … In some ways he seemed more willing to live conventionally than he had before. He returned to his childhood interest in horses and the race track, having driven himself regularly to Chantilly, the Bois and Longchamps to watch horses. The works he did now maintained the fine-lined, almost drawing-like quality of his painting” (Frey, p 480). Though “The Jockey” and three other lithographs were created with the intention of publishing a portfolio of horse racing subjects for the print dealer Pierrefort, this was the only one of the four ever realized as a print. But it’s one of his finest: conveying the raw energy and speed present on the track. You can almost feel the weight of the hooves as they hit the turf, hear the breath of the animal as it gallops by on this overcast, cold morning. One of 112 impressions.
Toulouse-Lautrec, like Degas, used many of the techniques and tropes of photography in his art. The photographer Paul Sescau, a friend of Lautrec’s, was the first to photograph Lautrec’s own artistic works. So when Lautrec was invited to create a poster for Sescau’s photographic studio, all kinds of double meanings and in-jokes were bound to come into play. “The woman’s (possibly Jane Avril) contracted and shrinking attitude, suggesting that she is fleeing from the camera, is an ironic comment probably intended for Sescau, who ‘used his studio mainly for seduction’” (Wagner, p. 26). The phallicly dangling shadowcloth between the photographer’s legs, the phallic projection of the camera itself, and the multitudes of question marks adorning the woman’s dress complete the picture. This is the first-state, with mask, and hand-signed.
In-gallery viewing October 12 to 27 (daily 11am-6pm)