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 fall’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).
“For Lautrec the theatre was to be found in the boxes as much as on stage. One of his best known inventions, La Loge au Mascaron Doré (The Box with the Gilded Mask) was a programme for Marcel Luguet’s play Le Missionnaire (The Missionary), which had its première at the Théâtre Libre on 24 April 1894. With its economical use of colour, this is one of Lautrec’s greatest achievements in the field of small scale colour lithography… Above left we see the profile of the English illustrator Charles Edward Conder… who had met Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge” (Adriani, p. 110). This is one of 100 hand-signed copies with the Kleinmann blind stamp. It also has a signed dedication to his dear friend André Antoine, the actor director of the Théâtre Libre.
A well-loved cabaret personality in Montmartre, Caudieux was a large, floppy ball of a man, shown here with coattails billowing behind him as he exits, stage right. As the actor purses his lips in self-satisfaction after what we can imagine to be a fine performance, a hollow-cheeked audience member gawks curiously up from the orchestra pit. Feinblatt calls this “a study in dynamic motion and concentrated energy… and his bustling sweep across the boards is an unparalleled rendering of movement among Lautrec’s posters” (Wagner, p. 20).
This 1899 lithograph of Jane Avril, one of the landmark works of the Art Nouveau period, is the second-to-last poster Toulouse-Lautrec would ever design. It was a fitting, poetic coda for the artist. Avril and Lautrec’s friendship blossomed with their careers. Beautiful but shy, elegant but melancholic, Avril was the opposite of La Goulue, her boisterous rival at the Moulin Rouge. But with several superb early posters, Lautrec elevated her fame such that Avril replaced La Goulue as the star of the show in 1895. In the early months of 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec had a nervous breakdown and was confined to a sanatorium. Out of friendship, Avril commissioned this work from him. Working from a photograph as an aide-mémoire, Lautrec “distilled the very essence of Avril, where the serpentine nature of her dancing is emphasized by her swaying body… and the wrap-around snake motif” (National Gallery of Australia). “She liked the poster very much, but her impresario refused it, and it was never shown” (Abdy, p. 80-81). For this poster, Lautrec used an innovative process which required only three printings for the four colors used (Adriani, p. 411). This is the rarest of the versions, hand-signed by the artist and including a small snake remarque in the lower left.
This is part of the Elles series, and is numbered 11 of 100 impressions, with Pellet’s watermark. One scholarly interpretation of the Elles suite is that, rather than being simply a collection of brothel motifs, it portrays the intimacies and mundane rituals of the women who worked at the maisons closes. “Lautrec showed the prostitute marked by the meaninglessness of her acts—gone are the poses of the desirable temptress—and he gave back to his Olympias and Nanas their humanity, as he showed them in their daily routine… Yet Lautrec does not take a moral stand. His sense of decency lies hidden in the graphic detail, in the beauty and reserve of the colour in these sheets” (Adriani, p. 222). 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.
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).
“Henry also painted, drew and made prints of a series of transient British and Irish music hall stars such as Ida Heath, whose aquiline nose he portrayed both onstage and at the bar, dedicating one of the lithographs to Chéret. This attention in his art to British friends and performers is noteworthy, as Henry is not known to have used other non-French models with any consistency” (Frey, p. 386). This is one of 40 impressions with the red monogram stamp at lower left.
Exhibited: Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 11/7/85-1/22/86.
“The première of the revue Paris qui marche was held at the end of 1897 at the Théâtre des Variétés, starring Georges Guillaume Guy (1859-1917) and Juliette Samany, known as Mealy (1867-1951). This lithograph was commissioned by Maurice Joyant; it was offered for sale at 20 francs, and deposited at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, on 19 November 1898” (Adriani, p. 372). This is #27 of 100 impressions, signed in pencil with the stamp at lower left.