Alfred Walter Heymel, Munich (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Tableaux, aquarelles et dessins par H. De Toulouse-Lautrec, April 30, 1913, lot 6)
Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
Prof. Dr. Arthur Hanloser, Winterthur & Bern
Private Collection (by descent from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Meisterwerke aus Privatsammlungen, 1922, no. 98
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Dans l'attente, 1937, no. 143
Lucerne, Kunstmuseum, Sammlung Dr. Arthur Hahnloser, 1940, no. 124
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Europäische Kunst aus Berner Privatbesitz, 1953, no. 127
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1961, no. 144
Cologne, Wallraf Richartz Museum, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1961-62, no. 144
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die Welt des Impressionismus, 1963, no. 131
Vienna, Österreichsches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1966, no. 16
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1987, no. 58
Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gemälde und Bildstudien, 1986-87, no. 63
Gustave Coquiot, Toulouse-Lautrec, Berlin, 1923, illustrated pl. 1
Pierre Courthion, "La Collection Arthur Hahnloser," L'Amour de l'Art, Paris, 1926, no. 2
Maurice Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1926, p. 284
François Fosca, Lautrec, Paris, 1928, illustrated p. 2
Francis Jourdain et Jean Adhémar, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1952, illustrated p. 88
Raffaeli Carrieri, Epoca, Milan, September 18, 1960, illustrated pl. 50
M. G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son Oeuvre, vol. II, New York, 1971, P. 505, illustrated p. 311 (incorrectly describes the signature as written "H.T. Lautrec")
G. M. Sugana and Giorgio Caproni, L'opera completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1977, no. 349, illustrated p. 108
Toulouse-Lautrec (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London; Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 1991, illustrated p. 414
Véronique Prat, "Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Provocateur," Le Figaro Magazine, Paris, January 28, 2006, illustrated p. 81
La Partie des cartes belongs to the great series of Toulouse-Lautrec’s depictions of scenes from the maisons closes, or Parisian brothels. Between 1892 and 1895 the artist frequented the brothels in the Rue des Moulins, the Rue d’Ambroise and the Rue Joubert, often lodging there for weeks at a time. He was thus able to observe the intense personal relationships that sprung up between the working women, who were often forsaken by their own families and friends, and his profound understanding of their human condition gave rise to this unprecedented group of paintings. While living with them in the brothels, their daily routine and intimate everyday moments were continually before his eyes. The artist observed them meticulously in their leisure time, at their toilette, at breakfast or waiting for customers. The women’s naturalness appealed to Lautrec: "Models always look as if they were stuffed; these women are alive. I wouldn’t dare pay them to pose for me, yet God knows they’re worth it. They stretch themselves out on the divans like animals… they’re so lacking in pretension" (quoted in Henri Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1960, p. 157).
A brilliant interpreter of his time, Toulouse-Lautrec did not limit himself – as so many of his contemporaries did – to social critique. Instead, in painting images of the demi-monde, he sought to capture the timeless humanity that lay beneath the façade of his subjects. Fascinated by figures in closed surrounding, he produced works that are remarkable not only for their technical and formal achievements, but also for their psychological acuity. His sensitive depictions of the uneventful daily routine of the prostitutes, their attempts to relieve the boredom of the waits between clients and their quiet, personal moments are amongst his best paintings. Writing about these works, Richard Thomson commented: "Lautrec showed the women relaxing, either before or after the evening’s business, when, according to contemporary stereotypes, ‘they play endless games of écarté, hoping that before too long the promises they’ve read about will come true – promises of a better life, leaving behind the detested brothel,’’ (Richard Thomson, in Toulouse-Lautrec (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London & Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1991-92, p. 414).
In the present work, the two women are portrayed in a private moment, absorbed in their activity of playing cards, seemingly unaware of the reclining woman in the far left of the composition or that they are being watched by the artist. The intimate atmosphere of the scene is amplified by the positioning of the two figures: the one closer to the viewer is turned with her back to us, her face only partly visible, while the other one looks down focusing on her cards and away from the viewer. Although he painted them in an interior setting, the artist’s attention is almost entirely on the figures; the furnishings are reduced to a minimum that gives the viewer a simple indication of the setting of the scene, and with their bright, warm coloring provide a vivid contrast with the cooler tones of the figures. Executed in quick straight brushstrokes, the red divans can be identified as the same ones depicted in Au Salon de la Rue des Moulins (fig. 1), a monumental painting that presents the culmination of the series.
Freed from the necessity of seeking portrait commissions due to his family’s wealth, Toulouse-Lautrec rarely practiced flattery or yielded too greatly to convention in his figure paintings. He was also free to cross class boundaries, choosing artists, performers and the working class as much as his own elite circle of friends and family members. His interest in the complex nature of each sitter’s personality naturally led him towards the habit of executing multiple paintings of favoured sitters. The woman with the characteristic chignon in the present work appears in other paintings and sketches from the series of maisons closes (fig. 2). In its sympathetic rendering of the two women, La Partie des cartes reflects Lautrec’s fundamental goal throughout his career, which was to explore and express the emotional and psychological realities that underlie human experience. Even in his large café and cabaret scenes, the artist was not interested in simply recording the spectacle, but was fascinated by the emotional and psychological effect they had on their participants and audiences.
The first owner of the present work was the Munich-based publisher and collector Alfred Walter Heymel. Advised by Julius Meier-Graefe, he showed interest in Toulouse-Lautrec’s works from an early stage, and accumulated a large number of this artist’s prints, as well as 22 oils, drawings and gouaches. The majority of his collection, including La Partie de cartes, was sold in a public auction in Paris in 1913, where it was purchased by Paul Rosenberg.
Fig. 1, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Au Salon de la Rue des Moulins, 1894, oil and charcoal on canvas, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi
Fig. 2, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Les Dames au réfectoire, 1893, oil on card, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
Fig. 3, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Au Salon de la Rue de Moulins, circa 1894, charcoal and oil on canvas, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi
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