Louis Anquetin’s L’Intérieur de chez Bruant: le Mirliton, 1886-87. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000.

NEW YORK - Seated around a table in Le Mirliton – Aristide Bruant’s cabaret and café, a premier destination for artists, writers, performers and curious bourgeoisie at the turn of the century – are the close friends, colleagues and compatriots of Louis Anquetin. Painter Émile Bernard sits at front left, his hand extended toward the table, gazing in the direction of fellow artist Paul Tampier, whose back is to the viewer. Albert Grenier can be spotted beside the smoker at right, and François Gauzi sits behind Tampier, his glass raised to his lips. Toulouse-Lautrec stands his tallest in the rear of the room, still heads below those around him. His likeness also appears in the figure of the man at far left in top hat, red gloves, grasping a walking stick. Aristide Bruant, the famed proprietor and singer, the star of many of Lautrec’s most-famed posters, stands atop the bar in the background, arms akimbo, red shirt distinctly visible, his face obscured by the glare of the gaslight. And at the center of it all is the belle of all balls, La Goulue, recognizable by her décolletage, trademark coiffure and slightly crossed eyes. In one canvas the glamorous stuff of 1880s Montmartre is captured, down to the sensory details of glowing gaslight and long tendrils of curling tobacco smoke.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La clownesse Cha-U-Kao, 1895, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

This vast painting by Anquetin was long thought to be lost or possibly even never painted. Several references in the published literature on Anquetin mention L’Intérieur de chez Bruant: le Mirliton either by name or by inference: “Anquetin also worked on a large panel L’Intérieur de chez Bruant in which he wanted to represent his friends. Lautrec, Tampier, Richard, and Émile Bernard, who refused to set foot in a place whose lowness horrified him. So he made a number of sketches, too many sketches in fact, so many that he exhausted his research and his panel never saw the light of day” (Galerie Brame & Lorenceau, ed., Anquetin, La Passion d’être Peintre, Paris, 1991, p. 99, translated from the French). 

Louis Anquetin’s studio circa 1891–92.

Louis Anquetin arrived in Paris in 1882 and began to study art at Léon Bonnat's studio, there meeting Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec before moving to the studio of Fernand Cormon and befriending both Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. His striking appearance and artistic skill established Anquetin as one of the leading lights of the Parisian artistic and literary avant-garde: “He established a reputation as a brilliant, innovatory artist and leader of a café-cabaret circle centred on Aristide Bruant's Le Mirliton in Montmartre . . . His subject matter included townscapes, café-cabaret scenes, nudes, the racecourse and fashionable women: he absorbed and discarded with equal speed styles derived from Lautrec and Renoir” (John House & Mary Ann Stevens, Post-Impressionism, Cross-Currents in European Painting, London, 1979, p. 28). As Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith later wrote, “When [Toulouse-Lautrec] met Louis Anquetin at the age of seventeen, he barely rose above the other man’s belt . . . Lautrec . . . referred to his towering friend as 'my great man,' and, after that, rarely left his side. The unlikely pair ran the Cormon studio as their own personal social club. Anquetin commanded the respect of his fellow students with his Jovian countenance and masterful brush” (Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh, The Life, New York, 2011, pp. 510-11). From these early days and throughout his frenetic career, Anquetin explored a broad range of evolving influences and styles, most notably including Japanese prints and the art of the Impressionists.