At The Circus with Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a notorious French painter. Lautrec was a larger than life figure that immersed himself in the ‘seedier’ side of 19th century Parisian culture. He was the only son of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec, (his younger brother was born in 1867 but died the following year), who were an aristocratic family from Albi. Their social standing and wealth enabled Lautrec to enjoy a number of leisure pastimes until he fell ill at around the age of 11 or 12, at which point whilst confined to his bed he began to draw in earnest, encourage by both his mother and grandmother. Unable due to his health and societal expectations to enter a profession acceptable to a gentleman of his stature, his family agreed to his apprenticeship to, Leon Bonnat, a painter whom they deemed of good social standing.
Now in Paris and on his own, Lautrec left behind the respectable society portraits and instead his paintings focused on the dancing girls, performers and prostitutes of 19th century Paris and in particular, Lautrec became synonymous with the infamous Moulin-Rouge. Lautrec rejected the high-class artistic establishment instead focusing his work on the everyday fantasy world that this district of pleasure created. For the Moulin-Rouge, Lautrec created a number of lithographic prints in high volumes that were used as advertising materials for the establishment, performers and performances. These prints were used as disposable advertising posters and pasted around the city with few surviving today. And both art historians and collectors treat those that do with great reverie. Lautrec changed the way that consumers interacted with his artwork in 19th century France and through it he gained an incredible notoriety both in his day and after. Lautrec immersed himself in this life, earing the respect of the working girls and proprietors, in fact he even lived in some of these establishments for a time, so involved and trusted was he. Unfortunately Lautrec’s party lifestyle mixed with his already ill health was untenable and he died at the age of 36, three months before his next birthday.
“At The Circus”
Facsimile Reproductions from the Original Portfolio
Printed by the Harry N. Abrams, 1967
These pieces are from Lautrec’s circus portfolio. Lautrec created the original collection of crayon and chalk drawings in the spring of 1899, just two years before his death, while he was at a sanatorium undergoing treatment for his alcoholism. In fact it was these drawings, with their beautifully intricate details (recalled from memory), that convinced staff at the institution that Lautrec was well enough to leave. Supposedly, upon leaving the institution, Lautrec said “I’ve bought my release with my drawings”. And looking at this collection it is easy to see why. The depth and delicacy of these works are exquisite – especially when we remind ourselves that these were done from memory months after Lautrec had last been to the circus.
The pieces we have in the gallery are facsimile reproductions of Lautrec’s original drawings. These lithographs were published in 1967 by Harry N. Abrams as part of a collection of 22 pieces that were put together from the Lautrec’s 1899 drawings to make this collection, “At The Circus”. The collection consist of the following works, Jockey, Clown Trainer, Female Trainer, Curtain Call, Performing Elephant, Bear Performing, Female Clown, Circus Acrobats, Entering The Ring, Tightrope Dancer, Performing Horses, Performing Horse, The Flying Trapeze, The Pas de Deux, Haute Ecole – The Spanish Walk, Haute Ecole Equestrienne: Pointage, Haute Ecole Equestrienne: Taking A Bow,Haute Ecole Equestrienne: The Tandem, Equestrian Acrobatics, Bareback Rider, Equestrienne: Riding ‘En Panneau’ and Clown Training a Horse and Monkey. This was the first reprint of these works since the original collection were published in 1905. Both collections are now out of print and copies are incredibly rare to come by and even rarer in good condition. Each piece from the collection measures 18 x 25 cm, is monogramed in the plate with Lautrec’s signature, ‘HTL’ and has been beautifully framed to keep as much of the original details as possible while also showing off the work in a modern finish.