Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was the great mythologizer of Montmartre, the licentious cauldron of Fin-de-Siècle 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.
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Condition: A-/ Slight tears at top edge. Framed.
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 at dead center the heart and soul of the cancan: the rush and swirl of layer upon layer of lacy petticoats, erotically calling to the viewer. In a letter to his mother, Lautrec writes: “I am still waiting for my poster to come out—there is some delay in the printing. But it has been fun to do. I had a feeling of authority over the whole studio, a new feeling for me” (Lautrec by Lautrec, p. 90). This is the two-sheet version of the poster, without the top text banner. It should be noted that this is the way that it was sold in the 1890s. With the missing banner, it would have been too large for the print galleries and print collectors who began the collecting craze of the era. And how prized was this image at the time? Arnould, in his 1896 catalogue, sold it for the highest price of any French poster: 25 francs, which was 10 times the price of the Elles poster and five times the price of La Revue Blanche. It was rare then—and it’s rarer still today!
Despite the fairly discouraging reactions to his first artistic attempt at publicizing Aristide Bruant, Lautrec also designed this poster, at Bruant’s request, for his appearances at the Eldorado on the Boulevard de Strasbourg. He used new stones for the drawing, with the same dimensions and the same color arrangement as the design for his Ambassadeurs poster two years prior, but reversed. Strategically, this was a brilliant move, as the Ambassadeurs poster was already well known to the public. However, the management of the Eldorado was hardly more amenable, as we see from a letter by Lautrec which may refer to the Eldorado poster: “Bruant, my good friend. Enclosed the states as requested. As far as the poster ex condition is concerned, there are no good impressions left. The Eldorado management was very mean, haggling over the price and giving me less than the printing costs at Chaix. So I have worked at cost price. I am sorry they misused our good relations to exploit me. It remains to be hoped we will be more careful next time” (Adriani, p. 23). That said, once the poster was printed and hung it became “one of the undisputed masterpieces which adorned the billboards of Paris. Such an impressive combination of form and color, of picture and lettering, has probably never been achieved since. Just as the red scarf and the wide-brimmed hat were Bruant’s trademark, so too this poster epitomize[d] Montmartre and its cabarets in the heyday” (Schardt, p. 176). This is a two-sheet poster.
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).
Condition: A-/ Unobtrusive folds.
This wry image of Mistinguett plays on her legendary performance style involving luxurious flirtation with the viewer. It’s also a testament to the seamless collaboration between the showgirl and her costume-designer artist, the young prodigy Charles Gesmar, who designed thousands of costumes and 55 posters for her. Note the identical hue of coral upon wrist-bauble, nails, and lips; the lapis lazuli upon her finger, and in her eye shadow; the emerald upon her ring finger, and in her eyes; the black pearls and Mistinguett’s mascara. Peek-a-boo, the colors say: I see you.
This poster announces Lautrec’s “Elles” collection, his famous brothel series, an edition of lithographs depicting prostitutes simply referred to as “Elles” (Them). This ambiguous title both recalls the common phrase ces dames (these ladies), and at the same time is the pronoun indicating all females. Although the women of the “Elles” series are prostitutes, they appear desexualized, shown in postures that emphasize the everyday and unglamorous nature of their occupation. In this instance, putting her hair back up after finishing with a client; the only indication that a man is even in the room is his top hat resting gingerly on her bed. It was the pictorial epilogue to what the artist had experienced in the maisons closes of the rue des Moulins, the rue d’Amboise, and the rue Joubert. “They” are “women to my liking,” as he used to say, and he often lived with them for weeks at a time during the years 1892 to 1895, a constant witness of their daily lives, of their suffering and intimacy.
Condition: A. Framed. Speckled edges.
This is the rare state of the previous poster before the addition of bottom text, printed in an edition of 100 copies, and used as the frontispiece of the Elles suite.
Condition: A-/ Unobtrusive folds.
This design advertises the serialization of the 1891 book “At the Foot of the Scaffold” in the newspaper Le Matin. Written by a former prison chaplain, the book carried a “true crime” quality which would have been particularly appealing at the time. The poster perfectly echoes this feeling: the prisoner’s gritty face is contorted as the giant hand of the executioner weighs down upon his shoulder. Beyond him, faceless shadows on horseback will be the last thing he sees before death. All known copies of this image are trimmed at the bottom.
Condition: A. Framed.
The original lithograph was entitled “Le Débauche” (The Debaucher) and was subsequently used as the cover of the Catalogues d’Affiches Artistiques, published in June 1896 by A. Arnould. In this case, the debaucher is Lautrec’s painter-friend, Maxime Dethomas (1868-1928), shown pinching the nipple of a poorly-clad woman. Frey makes an interesting observation: “It has been said of Dethomas both that he was an eager participant in seductions and brothel visits, and that he was in fact a little straight-laced and that Henry’s use [of him in this image] was a kind of teasing. Increasingly, however, when Henry showed his friends in compromising positions, it was because he had observed them thus” (p. 411). This is one of 100 impressions.
Condition: A-/ Mat stains at edges. P. Framed.
Toulouse-Lautrec may have been embedded in raffish Montmartre, but from 1894 onwards, he’d descend every afternoon to hold court at the Irish and American Bar, at 33 rue Royale in the upscale Right Bank. Behind the gleaming mahogany bar, a Chinese-Indian bartender named Ralph maintained the establishment with stoical calm as he served the British jockeys and trainers who frequented the house. For Toulouse-Lautrec, this was his home-away-from-home, and he “presided over the clients in the bar as he had over his house guests, insisting to Ralph that people he didn’t like not be admitted” (Frey, p. 390). This scene proved irresistible to Stone & Kimball, the Chicago publishers of The Chap Book, a biweekly American literary magazine, who commissioned the piece from La Plume (which was provided by Lautrec). The poster was never used in the United States; possibly it was intended to promote the magazine’s sales in France. As Alain Weill indicates, “One hundred copies were run off but without any mention of the printer’s name” (Weill/Art Nouveau, p. 40). This is that rare version before letters.
Condition: A/P. Framed.
Parisian actress Marcelle Lender had been appearing in a series of comic operas, principally at the Théâtre des Variétés, since 1889. Utterly enamored with the performer, Lautrec did many drawings of her in a variety of her roles. Here, she is depicted in Chilpéric, an operetta-revue that was revived in 1895. “The main attraction in Chilpéric was the bolero, danced by Marcelle Lender as the Galaswintha at the court of King Chilpéric. It was not so much the flimsy plot of this medieval farce as the actress… who led Lautrec to sit through the operetta nearly twenty times. Always watching from the same angle, from one of the first tiers on the left, he would lie in wait with his sketch pad” (Adriani, p. 157). Lautrec’s attentions were well repaid. His half-length portrait of Lender in her fantastic Spanish costume, bowing to the audience applause, is considered a lithographic masterpiece. “No other lithograph is printed with such a wealth of subtle color combinations, and none embodies, as this does, the opulent decoration of an age moving towards its close” (Adriani, p. 161). This is the Pan edition, in extremely mint condition.
Condition: B+/ Slight tears and stains, largely at edges. Framed.
An English dancer at the Moulin Rouge, May Milton was in an affair with May Belfort. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of her is so subtly bizarre that Picasso included it in the background of his early painting, “The Bath” (1901). “Milton is shown in a seemingly impossible position,” Ebria Feinblatt writes. “Lautrec so twists the position of Milton’s right leg that, instead of a back kick, the foot emerges from the side. At the same time, this pose answers the artist’s need to continue the unbroken, undulating pattern that starts with the wavy hair hanging down to her puffed shoulder sleeve… the undeniable presence of the figure [is] arresting” (Wagner, p. 27).
Condition: A. Framed.
One of 100 signed-and-numbered copies. “By 1893 if there were any doubts that there was a printmaking renaissance and that lithography dominated this general print revival, those doubts were quieted forever by a new publication entitled L’Estampe Originale… From March 1893 to early 1895, in collaboration with [critic] Roger Marx, [André] Marty published a series of quarterly albums of ten prints each (except for the last which contained fourteen prints) in the media of etching, drypoint, mezzotint, woodcut, wood engraving, gypsography, and lithography. In all, the publication encompassed ninety-five prints by seventy-four artists representing the young avant-garde such as Lautrec and the Nabis, as well as their established mentors including Gauguin, Puvis de Chavannes, Redon, Chéret, Whistler, Bracquemond, and Lepère. L’Estampe Originale offers a remarkable cross-section of the most advanced aesthetic attitudes in Fin-de-Siècle French art” (Color Revolution, p. 22). Marty felt that Lautrec “deserved ‘a place of honour in the golden book of the modern print’… [and he] accorded Henri exactly that place, using him as the artist for the cover of the first issue” (Frey, p. 323). Lautrec shows us his favorite model, Jane Avril, at his favorite lithographic workshop, Ancourt, studying a proof pulled by Père Cotelle, the experienced printer at the Bisset press behind her.