NEW YORK – For the last week we have highlighted different types of advertisements that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec produced on a commissioned basis. Toulouse-Lautrec also printed menus for alcohol-fuelled banquets held to recognise important milestones in his friends’ careers – a popular ritual in fin-de-siècle Paris. One such example is La Bouillabaisse, Menu Sescau, which Sotheby’s will proudly offer in our Prints auction on 1 May.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Bouillabaisse, Menu Sescau, lithograph, 1895. Estimate $7,000–9,000.
Toulouse-Lautrec executed the menu to celebrate the opening of his friend Tristan Bernard's new hit play, Les Pieds nickelés. The menu includes two illustrations of Lautrec’s friends and clients. Paul Sescau, who played banjo and host to the banquet at his 53 rue Rodier studio, appears at left. A caricature of Maurice Guibert, a champagne merchant, is in the top right corner. Almost everything in the menu is an inside joke or a reference to a contemporary event, the significance of which has been lost with time.
A (very) loose translation of some of the text follows. We would like to thank acclaimed Toulouse-Lautrec biographer Julia Frey for her help translating the menu.
Salmis de Pedrix boje tzaria Krani – Salmis de Predrix is partride pate; boje tzaria krani means God Save the Tzar and was the title of the Russian national anthem. The Franco Russian Alliance was signed in 1894 and Russian culture became all the rage. The cultural phenomenon was the impetus for the lithograph Au Moulin Rouge – L’Union Franco-Russe (Delteil 50; Adriani 55; Wittrock 40).
La Sarigue en Liberty – Sarigue means opossum, and when combined with en Liberty, it translates to free opossum. So, an opossum roaming wild (i.e. not served at dinner). This could be a reference to the rumor that Émile Zola once served kangaroo at one of his dinner parties. Most likely, Liberty also refers to London’s Liberty department store. Toulouse-Lautrec was particularly enamored with the store’s flowered merchandise executed in the Arts Nouveau style. Thus, La Sarigue en Liberty, could literally translate (Lautrec was an Anglophile), to Opossum dressed in Liberty.
Foies gras de l’oïe Fuller – Fuller refers to Marie Louise Fuller, a popular American dancer who performed at the Folies-Bergère under her French nickname Loïe Fuller. The French word for goose is oie. By adding the apostrophe and keeping the trema (the two dots over the ‘I’), she becomes a silly goose.
Pivre Lilas Frotteurs – This is lost to time. However, this is probably a pure invention for an after-dinner liqueur that Lautrec created, since the word Lilas was included in the title of a popular liqueur. Frotteur is strange but is revealing for the tone of the evening: the word first appears in the French language in 1886 and refers to general sexually perverted behavior. There is no direct English equivalent but the closest English phrase would probably be “subway pervert.”
& Champagne Charlie – A popular musical hall song in late 19th Century Montmartre.