“Just look at the heads of his ordinary characters, categorize them, scrutinize them and tell me if this is not indeed an astonishing human menagerie!” – Octave Uzanne, Le Monde Moderne, 1899
Victor Joze, a Polish writer of cheap erotic novels and a friend of Lautrec, in 1892 published Reine de Joie/Moeurs du Demi-Monde (Queen of Joy, or, The World of Easy Virtue). It was a perfect subject for Lautrec. The episode shown is one in which the heroine of the novel, Hélène Roland, kisses the corpulent Olizac on the nose at dinner. At the insistence of Baron Rothschild, who believed the main character in the novel, a Baron Rosenfeld, to be modeled on himself, attempts were made to suppress the entire edition. This did not, however, prevent the publishers of Fin de Siècle from riding on the publicity of such a scandal and selling parts of the story. As Ebria Feinblatt notes: “The poster is one of the most piquant and popular that the artist produced… Aside from the acutely realistic characterizations, the impact of the composition lies in the skillful use of pure color to model the forms, which assume an abstract quality” (Wagner, p. 19).
“May Belfort, whom [Lautrec] represented in at least ten works, had gained a reputation for corrupt innocence by appearing onstage dressed as a baby holding a black kitten in her arms, and ‘miaowing or bleating’ her popular song, “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow,” whose lines had a double meaning which was not lost on the French-speaking audience: ‘I’ve got a pussycat, I’m very fond of that’” (Frey, p. 382). This would have been particularly amusing for the audience, as Belfort was in an openly lesbian affair with the English dancer May Milton.
Night. The downtrodden trudge with their belongings down the empty avenue. Their backs are bent, the cart is freighted, the horse strains at the load. It’s a completely counter-intuitive, and brilliant, way to advertise the new Socialist periodical L’Aube (“The Dawn”), which appeared on the racks of the bouquinistes in May, 1896. Lautrec designed the scene in turquoise, using his spatter technique to suggest the grainy quality of the day’s first early, uncertain light. Ebria Feinblatt points out that “the robust female pushing the cart illustrates Lautrec’s mastery of movement, here almost geometrized in her shape” (Wagner, p. 29).
This is the first version of this image. While others announce the opening of Bruant’s latest cabaret (see following Lot), and the sale of a songbook by the performer, this version – considered the original – promotes a 13 sous beer special that will be available during Bruant’s show. Wittrock rates it as “Rare.”
“Wait, I recognize those two!” Those two dancers, with their distinctive profiles, are La Goulue (Louise Weber) and her dance partner, Valentin le Désossé (The Boneless), stars of the show in Lautrec’s world-famous Moulin Rouge poster. Here, though, La Goulue is far softer, less saucy, less likely to can-can the hat off a man’s head (as she was known to do), and instead is pulled into a waltz by Valentin. This is a songsheet cover, based on a similar print, of a waltz composed and titled in La Goulue’s name.