Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
- AU CIRQUE: DANS LES COULISSES
- signed Tréclaut and HTLautrec (lower right)
- oil on canvas
- 66.5 by 59.5cm.
- 26 1/4 by 23 3/8 in.
Milan Obrenovic, King of Serbia (acquired in 1888)
General Milivoj Nicolaievic, Serbia
Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above and until at least 1955)
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Mr & Mrs Charles W. Engelhard, Far Hills, New Jersey
The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey (a gift from the above in 1965; de-accessioned 1988)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Brussels, Catalogue de la V Exposition des XX, February 1888, no. 10 (listed as L'Écuyère)
New York, Wildenstein, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1964, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1880)
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1968, no. 4
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, 1979, no. 34, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1887-88)
New Brunswick, New Jersey, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, The Circle of Toulouse-Lautrec: An Exhibition of the Work of the Artist and His Close Associates, 1985-86, no. 192, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1887-88 and with incorrect measurements)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, 2005, no. 261, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1886-87)
Emile Verhaeren, 'Cronique Bruxelloise: L'Exposition des XX à Bruxelles', in La Revue Indépendante, March 1888, pp. 456-457
E. Jay Rousuck, On Naming Tesio Horses, New York, 1964, privately printed, illustrated n.p.
Gabriele M. Sugana & Giorgio Caproni, L'Opera completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1969, no. 532, illustrated p. 121
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York, 1971, vol. II, no. P.321, illustrated p. 155; vol. V, p. 496, cited under no. D.3.056
Philippe Huisman & M.G. Dortu, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1971, illustrated p. 78
Gabriele M. Sugana & Giorgio Caproni, L'Opera completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1977, no. 532, illustrated p. 121
Les XX, Bruxelles: catalogue des dix expositions annuelles, Brussels, 1981, p. 143
Gabriele M. Sugana & Bruno Foucart, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1986, no. 291, illustrated p. 106
Jean Sagne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1988, p. 351
Gilles Néret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1991, fig. 64, illustrated in colour p. 50
Jean Sagne, Toulouse-Lautrec au cirque, Paris, 1991, illustrated p. 35 (incorrectly catalogued as belonging to the Newark Museum)
Toulouse-Lautrec (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London & Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1991-92, fig. 22, illustrated p. 32 (as dating from 1887)
Julia Frey, Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life, New York, 1994, p. 419
As a chronicler of popular culture and the night life of turn-of-the-century Paris, Toulouse-Lautrec had no rivals. Born into an aristocratic French family in 1864, Lautrec spent much of his life among the Parisian demi-monde, revealing his genius in sharp, analytical portrayals of the twilight world of the fin-de-siècle metropolis. A brilliant interpreter of this lively and debauched world, Lautrec was not interested – as so many of his contemporaries were – in social critique. Whether it was the quick sketch of a face, the curving lines of a group of dancers, a scene in a café, at the Théâtre des Variétés or in a maison close, he succeeded in capturing the timeless humanity that lay beneath the façades of his subjects. The present work, painted around 1888, reveals the artist's deeply humanistic approach, while at the same time offering a fascinating insight into the spirit of its time.
Lautrec was a frequent visitor to the circuses in Paris, among which Cirque Fernando in Montmartre was his favourite (fig. 1). As Richard Thomson wrote: 'The circus was deeply ingrained in Toulouse-Lautrec's imagination. He knew the world of horses from his childhood. No doubt as a boy he had been taken to the circus. And in the early 1880s, while in his teens and taking his first steps as a painter under the informal tutelage of the deaf-mute painter René Princeteau, he became fascinated by the ring, often visiting the Cirque Fernando in Montmartre' (R. Thomson, 'The Circus', in Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 237).
These visits inspired a group of paintings and drawings executed between 1886 and 1888, including Au cirque: dans les coulisses. Lautrec's rendering of the circus theme was to culminate in an ambitious and monumental canvas, now destroyed, which was possibly intended to serve as a backdrop at the Cirque Fernando. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century by the bareback rider Ferdinand Beert, known as Fernando, this was originally a travelling circus until 1873, when it settled at the top of the rue des Martyrs. Previously known under the name Cirque Fernando, it was immortalised by artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Seurat and Degas. Its success was based on a varied programme which consisted of acrobats, riders and the popular clown Médrano. After a temporary closure in 1897, the circus was taken over by Médrano, who gave it his name and whose family ran it until 1943. After that the circus was run under the name of the Cirque de Montmartre, until it was finally demolished in 1972.
The excitement of the circus performances, and Fernando himself, were the subject of a number of paintings and drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec, most notably his Au Cirque Fernando, l'écuyère (fig. 2). In the present work, however, he eliminated references to the circus as a public spectacle, focusing instead on a group of figures during a more informal moment, probably just after appearing on stage. Writing about the present work, Richard Thomson further wrote: 'A painting of behind-the-scenes at the circus, in which a clown pats a horse while a female performer and a lugubrious man look on, was one of his first resolved compositions. Executed in grisaille, it marks Lautrec's transition from the more conventional execution he had learned in Cormon's studio to the modern, dynamic, and improvised manner he would develop in the later 1880s. We might even argue that the circus, which demanded from the artist a style that echoed its own perpetual movement, vulgar color, and wicked sense of fun, helped Lautrec formulate the very mobile and graphic handling that was the hallmark of his mature work' (ibid., p. 238).
Lautrec's use of the grisaille technique for this picture enhances the impact of his composition. While showing the artist's exceptional skills as a draughtsman, the tonal gradation also lends itself to exploring the question of representing spatial perspective. The contrast between the lighter, darker and mid-grey tones gives the composition a lively, dynamic quality. That the artist himself held the present work in great esteem is demonstrated by the fact that he selected Au cirque: dans les coulisses for the exhibition of 'Les XX' held in Brussels in 1888. In his review of the exhibition, the contemporary critic Emile Verhaeren praised the work as 'modern, colloquial, lively, well observed and thoroughly researched' (E. Verhaeren, quoted in Toulouse-Lautrec (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1991-92, p. 33).
The present canvas is signed twice. Tréclau, the anagram of Lautrec, which the artist used before his father would allow him to mention the family name, is visible underneath his later signature.
Fig. 1, Cirque Médrano, Paris, circa 1910, photograph
Fig. 2, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Au Cirque Fernando, l'écuyère, 1887-88, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago