Lithograthy of Toulouse-Lautrec
Not so many artists in the world history practised printed drawings as much as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In a short period of time from 1891 to 1899 he produced about 350 prints and posters which influenced greatly the development of the language of drawing of the late 19th century, the Golden Age of lithography.
The full scale exhibition which for the first time shows all of Lautrec's lithography pieces from the Hermitage collection gives an idea of different periods and aspects of the creative activities of this great master.
Aristide Bruand in his cabaret and Japanise Divan which open the exhibition are definitely the best Lautrec's posters of 1893. The romantic image of the cabaret singer is very recognisable. He is repeated unchanged in many posters (see e.g. Caffee-Concert, same year).
The Japanese component makes Lautrec's style very individual. The master's respect to the arts of the Far East is vividly shown in his poster Japanise Divan. This is definitely one of the best pieces and its heroine (Lautrec's friend and favourite sitter, dancer Jeanne Avril) is one of the most impressive images of love in the painting of his time. Lautrec created this portrait for the cover of the edition of The Original Print, a luxurious publication, made in Paris by a well-known publisher Andre Marti, which was coming out in separate sets from March 1893 till 1895. Lautrec's friend Charles Moren who was specialising in complicated etchings, drew the artist's portrait for this edition.
In 1893 Toulouse-Lautrec was very prolific. He created more than fifty paintings and nearly as many prints and posters. The peak of his activities was a suite of prints for Caffee-Concert published again by The Original Print. Caffee-Concert was printed in a big volume and was meant for a wide circle of popular music lovers. The suite consists of eleven lithography portraits of Lautrec's favorite characters: Jeanne Avril, Ivette Gilbert, Aristide Bruand and other actors and frequenters of caffee-chantant. As practised at that time, two versions of the edition were made. One was for an ordinary buyer and one really luxurious. Besides the suite shown at the present exhibition, only four full sets of the luxurious edition exist in the world at present.
1895-1896 were the years of the maturity period. At this time Lautrec created the cover of the last edition of The Original Print (March 1895). In pencil Lautrec showed Mizia, the wife of Tade Natanson, the editor of Revue Blanche. In 1893-1895 the pencil lithography comprises the biggest part of Lautrec's drawings. He made humorous invitation cards, menu cards, sketches, illustrations. Such are Zimmerman in his car, Dinner in London, a set of illustrations to Clemanso's novel At the foot of Sinai, and the poster Alarm Bell.
In 1895 he was commissioned to produce a unique colour lithography for magazine Pan (Munich). The subject was an actress Marseille Lender, bust version. She was extremely popular in a buff musical Helperique. For many years this lithography was the most famous of all Lautrec's works.
His popularity in prints brought him an order from publisher Gustave Pellet who was specialising in erotic prints. In April 1896 a series They was published. The edition again was very rich but it did not bring any commercial success. The experts admitted the erotism was not the one they had expected. One of the most memorable images by Lautrec is The Sitting Clowness (Mademoiselle Sha-U-Ka-O), which opens the series. This one gained the best recognition and was quickly sold out to collectors. Following the success of this subject, two more prints were made in 1897 by Pellet Publishing House, showing the same lady. These are Clowness at Moulin Rouge and Dance at Moulin Rouge. The exhibition shows three portraits of famous actors made in pencil lithography in 1898. In a large scale print Foyee (1899) a famous photographer Paul Cesco is shown with the painter's cousin and friend Gabriel Tapier de Celeiran. Even the anonymous characters in Lautrec's works come from artistic circles. Such is the heroine of lithography At Annetone.
We might have forgotten the myths of Monmartre but for Lautrec's personages.
Lautrec's works, including his prints, quickly became popular and were steadily valued at the art market. It has always been fashionable and prestigious to collect them. The rich Russian collectors of early 20th century did not take him seriously, though. Only printed drawings could be found in St. Petersburg, scattered in small private collections. Eventually, in different ways Lautrec's masterpieces were coming to the Hermitage to make in the end a collection of a high artistic level.