The recent acquisition of three major lithographs, all in pristine condition, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is an event which should not pass without comment as it begins to fill a particularly urgent need in the museum's collections, that is, an adequate representation of the great nineteenth-century painters in their graphic work. It would be utterly futile to point out the importance of Toulouse-Lautrec, for his popularity in America, when measured by the number of exhibitions and publications, is hardly equaled by any other French artist. Perhaps it is the greater sobriety of living in the Anglo-Saxon countries which is partly responsible for this popularity. We like to see in Lautrec the very quintessence of the French spirit, while his own countrymen, being keenly aware of the wealth and complexity of their artistic heritage, do not necessarily share this viewpoint.The artist's sensational life story has set many pens in motion—ranging from well documented accounts to pure fiction. The deformed, dwarf-like descendent of the oldest family of the Languedoc which can boast an unbroken lineage back to the ninth century, who sought his inspiration in theaters, cabarets, circuses, brothels and race tracks, would have had some very caustic remarks about those writers who bemoan his “tragic life” and burden him with reparations and frustrations, who would have him eat out his heart for the blessings of a “normal life” and for the love of the one woman whom he never found or who spurned him if indeed she existed at all. It is true that his reckless disregard for his health, too much drinking, too much work and too little sleep cut short his life at the age of thirty-six, but it was a life tuned to the particular demands of his great talent which achieved its fullest maturity in so short a time. Lautrec's capacity for work was unlimited and he left behind an enormous oeuvre. Basically, he was rather more a draftsman than a painter and, although endowed with a delicate sense of color, he often handled the brush as a drawing tool. It is no wonder then that his unique contribution was in the field of color lithography, which in the short span of time from 1892 to 1897 he developed to a degree of subtlety that has never been equalled.The talented and dynamic actress, Marcelle Lender,1
appears in much of Lautrec's work 1893 to 1896. The artist went over twenty times to the Théâtre des Variétés to see her dance the Boléro in the operetta Chilpéric by Hervé. The color lithograph, which shows her in the costume of the operetta, was made in 1895 for the German magazine Pan.
Its publication, incidentally, caused a major scandal in German art circles and led to a reversal of the magazine's erstwhile progressive policy. The impression acquired by the Institute belongs to the earlier edition which was pulled before the edition for Pan.
It once had been in the famous collection of the late Marcel Guérin in Paris. Lautrec's flair for characterization, not to be confused with outright caricature, was seldom flattering to his subjects. Lender, Anna Held, Polaire and many others were far more beautiful women by conventional standards than Lautrec portrayed them.Mademoiselle Pois Vert,2
a title which refers to a print by Utamaro, is a masterfully sketched portrait of an inmate of a maison close,
a psychological study of deep insight. Only twenty-five impressions were printed. The ink has the olive-green hue which the artist preferred over the conventional black of monochrome lithographs.The years 1896 and 1897 saw the greatest triumphs of Lautrec's color lithography. In 1896, he brought out the ten plates, known as the “Elles” set, and in 1897, the great masterpieces of which Partie de Campagne3 Ride in the Country
), made for Vollard's Album des Pientres-graveurs of that year, is the latest. This lithograph is the final version of a subject which had been particularly dear to Lautrec from the time he began to draw: page after page in early sketch books of around 1880 is filled with horse drawn carriages, more often than not in rapid motion. Now, the mature master shows what could be done with the subject. No words could adequately describe the atmosphere, the delicacy and lightness of this work. That the elegant collie's legs are not visible, greatly enhances the illusion of speed. Although this lithograph appeared in a much larger edition than the other lithographs of the same year, one hundred impressions as against twenty or under, it appears to be as rare now as any of the others, because of the tremendous demand that exists for it, quite understandably.Endnotes
Referenced Works of Art
- Loys Delteil. H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1920 (Le Peintre-Graveur Illustré vol's X-XI), No. 102, 2nd state.
- Delteil 126
- Delteil 219
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864-1901. Marcelle Lender 1895. Color lithograph (102 II) Delteil. D. Draper Dayton Foundation Fund, 1956.
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864-1901. Mille Pois Vert 1895. Lithograph (Delteil 126). Miscellaneous Purchase Fund, 1956.
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864-1901. Ride in the Country (“Partie de Campagne”) 1875. Lithograph (Delteil 219). Martha Torrance Wallace Fund, 1956.