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. This winter’s auction offers a delightful array of his best-loved lithographs and rare prints.
“At the height of cancan’s popularity, dancers formed groups which offered their services as a unit: whether the Troupe de Mlle Églantine was the best of them we don’t know, but it is certainly the only one publicized by the best. Toulouse-Lautrec did it at the request of his friend Jane Avril. From left to right, we see Jane Avril, Cléopâtre, Églantine, and Gazelle. As with his Moulin Rouge poster, he lets the white of the petticoats, punctuated by stockinged legs, do most of the talking, but he also offhandedly gives each girl a distinct character in only a few lines lining their facial expressions” (Wine Spectator, 43).
“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 and hear the breath of the animal as it gallops by on this overcast, cold morning. One of 112 impressions.
“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.
This is the deluxe French edition, numbered 32 of 100 impressions, and with the artist’s orange monogram. 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). Rare!
“This official poster for La Revue Blanche is considered by many to be Lautrec’s strongest individual work. In it, using a combination of economical line and implied movement, large flat areas of color and carefully observed detail, he shows Misia Natanson, wife of the magazine’s editor, Thadée Natanson, ice-skating at the Palais de Glace, an ice rink opened at the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées by Jules Roques in 1894. The entire poster is like a little joke, as if Lautrec were amusing himself by proving that he could show an ice-skater without ever showing her skates” (Frey, p. 408).
Bruant’s strong, forceful, and in many ways vulgar style was ideally suited to the intimate cabarets where fashionable society went “slumming” for thrills. Lautrec captures this brutal quality of the entertainer and the disdain with which he treated his audiences by having him show us the broad of his back. The red scarf forms an exclamation point that punctuates the black expanse while the pose itself makes a complete, self-contained statement—Toulouse-Lautrec at his very best. This is the rare proof before the addition of letters.
Lautrec’s friend André Marty, a publisher and dealer in graphic arts, was also the founder of a chain of interior decorating shops that he called “L’Artisan Moderne.” As a favor, the artist helped him to publicize that venture by designing this charming poster in which “an artisan appears at an early hour in a lady’s boudoir, much to her maid’s consternation. The woman herself appears pleasantly undisturbed. Humorously, Lautrec included in the picture his friend, the jeweler and medalist Henri Nocq, his head curiously small, uncertainly posed as the artisan. On Nocq’s toolbox Lautrec drew the name of the advertiser, Niederkorn… The highlighting of the little lap dog was executed with a needle” (Wagner, p. 24). This is the very rare variant with the addition of the “qui?” text in the upper right.
This is part of the Elles series, and is one of 100 impressions. One scholarly interpretation of the Elles suite is that, rather than being simply a collection of brothel motifs, it portrays the domestic life of a lesbian couple, one half of which was the clowness of the Moulin Rouge, Cha-U-Kao. Such a reading gathers likelihood in the knowledge that the publisher, Pellet, favored risqué themes. Here, Lautrec depicts a morning visit between Madame Juliette Baron and her daughter Paulette, known as Mademoiselle Popo, both of whom worked in the brothel in the Rue des Moulins.
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.