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To see the works of Henri de Toulouse-Laturec and his contemporaries on view now at the Driehaus Museum, visit the L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters exhibition site

There is perhaps no other artist as closely associated with Paris’s ‘Beautiful Age,’ the Belle Époque, than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His art of the late 19th century captured the colorful whirlwind of a raucous, modernizing city, from raunchy cabaret promotions to provocative brothel scenes. He was drawn to the avant-garde performers and prostitutes at very edge of society; an outsider himself, his own experiences informed his subjects.

 

The Outsider Aristocrat

Lautrec was born Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, a descendent of one of the oldest and most prestigious French families, on an estate in Albi in southern France. He was his parents’ first child and came from generations of counts and viscounts, but would nonetheless live the life of an outcast as a dwarf. Between the ages of 13 and 14, he broke each of his legs in turn. Neither fully healed and the legs ceased growing, presumably because of a genetic disorder caused by inbreeding in his aristocratic family—his parents were first cousins. Lautrec therefore grew into adulthood with the foreshortened legs of a child below a normal-sized torso. He stood at 4 feet, 8 inches tall, and used a cane to walk with difficulty for the rest of his life.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Mocked for his physical appearance and prevented from participating in the sports and outdoors activities appropriate for a boy of his background and which he longed to do, Lautrec coped using alcohol. He drank copious amounts, especially the alarmingly potent absinthe. He even hollowed out his walking cane in order to fill it with liquor and always have a drink close by. Highly intelligent and always bitterly aware of how a normal, pleasurable, successful life in society remained out of his grasp due to his deformity, he developed a stinging wit. “I will always be a thoroughbred hitched up to a rubbish cart,” he said.

He also escaped into the world of Parisian brothels, where he surrounded himself with prostitutes. Although known for his louche behavior, he didn’t spend time with these women for sexual pleasure alone. He found a kind of camaraderie in their common status as outsiders. Lautrec was drawn to these women and even adopted them as a kind of family. Fellow painter Édouard Vuillard commented,

 

“Lautrec was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance. He found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the prostitute.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec photographed wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

The Sympathetic Artist

Lautrec learned to draw as a child while bedridden with various illnesses. He favored horses as a subject; his father kept a full stable of them in Albi. In 1882, Lautrec moved to Paris at the age of 18 to study art in the studios of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon. At Cormon’s he met other young members of the avant-garde, including Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and French writer and painter Émile Bernard. Lautrec settled in Montmartre, and became a legendary fixture of the bohemian neighborhood over the next 20 years.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901).  Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Although Lautrec was an outsider in society and at the fringe of the Paris art world among the avant-garde, he would meet with wide acclaim and financial success through his posters, prints, and illustrations for journals and magazines. His first poster for the Moulin Rouge, The Dance at the Moulin Rouge featuring the striking, bawdy can-can dance of La Goulue (“The Glutton”), catapulted him to overnight success. This and the many so-called commercial works to follow inspired his contemporaries to view posters as fine art; arguably, Lautrec’s greatest masterpieces were advertisements for the famous Moulin Rouge and other eager clients in the entertainment business.

Lautrec didn’t merely observe Paris’s hot spots for the sake of his work. His art and life were inseparable, and he was a celebrated customer at the very brothels and cabarets whose prostitutes and performers he immortalized in his art. The Moulin Rouge even reserved a special front-row seat for him in the nightclub in addition to displaying his paintings. Lautrec formed close relationships with some of Paris’s greatest actresses, singers, and dancers; they were his muses, and, in return, he their publicist. Performers whose careers were supported by his exuberant posters and occasional portraits include American dancer Loië Fuller, French dancer and close friend Jane Avril, and French diseuse Yvette Guilbert. Paul Leclercq, a friend of Lautrec’s, described a typical scene at the Moulin Rouge that captures the spirit of Belle Époque Paris and the harmony between Lautrec’s personal life and work:

“In the midst of the crowd, there was a stir, and a line of people started to form: Jane Avril was dancing, twirling, gracefully, lightly, a little madly; pale, skinny, thoroughbred, she twirled and reversed, weightless, fed on flowers; Lautrec was shouting out his admiration.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lautrec was a master lithographer, tossing away artistic convention for his own vision and making exceptional use of all the latest innovations in color, texture, and printing. And like many artists of his generation, he drew heavy influence from the Japanese prints that were entering Paris for the first time at the end of the 19th century. He borrowed techniques like outlined areas of flat color, shifts in perspective, cropped compositions, and unusual angles.

One of Lautrec’s most notable achievements is his Elles series. Through these 50 paintings, Lautrec lifted the curtain on the intimate inner lives of the prostitutes he knew. The paintings depict the women in moments of solitude and repose. They aren’t romantic, floating feminine types; nor are they laughing, flirting, bawdy prostitute types; rather, they are real flesh-and-blood individuals. Through these paintings, the viewer enters an introspective, private moment that makes the women seem breathtakingly human.

Much of Lautrec’s work, and the Elles series in particular, reveal an artist who understood, even favored, the people who were consigned to the fringes of society. He showed deep sympathy for them, capturing qualities that they held in common with the rest of humanity, rather than emphasizing what set them apart as outsiders.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Unfortunately, Lautrec led a lifestyle that far outstripped his body’s ability to cope. He boldly declared at the age of 24, “I expect to burn myself out by the time I’m forty.” He died earlier than his prediction—at the age of 36 in 1901, from the combined effects of alcoholism and syphilis. He left behind a body of work that included 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, ceramics and stained glass work, and an uncounted number of lost works. These, and the spirit of Belle Époque Paris they immortalize, are his legacy which resounds today.

 

 

Resources
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec.” The Art Story: Modern Art Insight
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec,” by Cora Michael, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2010. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/laut/hd_laut.htm
“Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge.” Exhibition June – September 2011, The Courtauld Gallery, London. http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/toulouse-lautrec-and-jane-avril-beyond-the-moulin-rouge
Toulouse Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Colta Feller Ives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996.

 

The Broadside

The history of the poster starts with black-and-white broadsides in the 1600s, which evolved in the wake of the printing press. These one-sided sheets of paper were a quick way to mass-distribute information. Shopkeepers propped product announcements in their windows; governments called people to action in the event of war; public decrees were quickly distributed. A wanted poster of the old American West would be a classic example of a broadside. The Declaration of Independence is also a famous example; printed as a broadside, news of the victorious revolution spread quickly throughout the American colonies.

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The first 150-200 copies of the Declaration of Independence were broadsides, printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

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This broadside announced a meeting to take action against the Great Chicago Fire on October 9, 1871. Image via the Chicago History Museum.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A Turning Point

Broadsides were an ephemeral form—easily printed, distributed for quick impact, read for the information they contained, and then tossed away. But as time passed and technology advanced, the broadside evolved. Typefaces got a little more interesting—larger, more decorative. Images were added to grab a viewer’s attention.

And then a turning point came in the 19th century in Paris. The poster transcended its role as attention-getting carrier of practical information. It became beautiful. It became desirable. It transformed the gray urban commute into a pleasurable stroll punctuated by cheerful color. It became the passion of a group of aficionados who avidly collected these posters, preserving them from the short life cycle of ephemera. In short, the poster became art.

So how did it happen?

There are a number of factors: the rise of the middle class in Paris with more expendable income for collecting, advances in technology that allowed for larger and more complex poster designs, a multicultural milieu with artists of all types mingling and sharing ideas in Paris’s bohemian neighborhoods, a city redesign that included street furniture designed specifically for posters, and more.

But one of the central factors is the reinvention of lithography, the process by which many posters were made before they became fine art.

And Jules Chéret is the one who reinvented it. Chéret is widely known as the father of the modern poster, and it is in his footsteps that the rest of the major artists in the Driehaus Museum exhibition, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, followed.

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 - 1932)

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 – 1932)

Jules Chéret

Chéret was born in 1836, the son of a French typesetter in Paris. He briefly studied drawing, then started training at age 13 in lithography, working as an apprentice and journeyman in Paris and London for 17 years. He got his break when perfume manufacturer Eugène Rimmel hired him as a designer. Soon after he started his own lithographic printing firm in Paris, firmly believing that lithography would soon replace his father’s letterpress industry as the premier printing technique.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Jules Chéret's first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of "Orpheus in the Underworld."

Jules Chéret’s first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of “Orpheus in the Underworld.”

Lithography

Lithography wasn’t new. It was invented in 1798 by a Bavarian actor and playwright, Alois Senefelder, to reproduce his scripts. Senefelder’s printing process is simple to understand if you keep in mind that oil and water don’t mix. To make a lithograph, you take a greasy or waxy crayon and draw images or words onto a large, smooth limestone surface. Then you douse the surface of the stone in water and roll it with ink. The greasy drawing repels the water and soaks up the ink, while the wet areas without any drawing repel the ink. So when you press the stone—with considerable force—onto a piece of paper, it transfers the inky images and text onto that paper.

If you wanted a color lithograph, also called a chromolithograph, things got a little more complicated. You had to prepare as many stones as you want colors. It was laborious and the stones were incredibly heavy, so lithographs remained pretty much monochromatic well into the 1860s. If color was utilized at all, it was a little splash as a highlight to the heavily crammed text, and not a core part of the visual design.

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An artist drawing on a lithographic stone.

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Illustration of printing a lithograph. Image via DesignHistory.org.

 

The Artistic Poster

Given the lack of design consideration, low quality, and disposability of earlier commercial lithographs, lithography got a reputation as an unworthy artistic medium. To say that you were making lithographic art in the 19th century would be like printing a full-page advertisement in a glossy beauty magazine today and calling it your chosen artistic medium. It isn’t impossible. It would simply be difficult for many to imagine elevating this medium we associate with makeup advertisements to the realm of museum collections. It was the same with lithography. It suffered from its association with quick and commercial information. There was nothing daring, original, or beautiful about lithography.

That is, until Jules Chéret. Visionary artists often take an idea or form that already exists and transform it so completely that it appears new and original. This was the case with Chéret, who appeared unconstrained by the negative associations with lithography and decided to use it for colorful, cheerful, and vivaciously French artworks. In 1884 Chéret organized the first group poster exhibition in art history, ushering in an era of these images being accepted—and enthusiastically celebrated—as fine art, and in 1886 he published the first book on poster art. Chéret would also eventually work with printing houses that catered to collectors who wanted poster art for their own.

Chéret made advances to lithography in the mid-19th century that others would soon imitate. He designed his own lettering, taking advantage of the fact that the lithograph, as opposed to the printing press, allows for the artist to draw freehand on the stone’s surface. The text therefore became a part of the poster’s overall design. Chéret also reduced the amount of text, leaning heavily on the image to communicate about a product or event. He also simplified the chromolithographic process by using three primary colors: three stones inked with red, yellow, and blue. By making these colors semi-transparent, he could layer them and create different shades. Finally, Chéret approached the limestone in a painterly way, using animated brush lines, crosshatch, stipple, soft watercolor-like washes, and areas of flat color. A fellow chromolithographer, André Mellerio, heralded this fine art of the street, calling the new color poster “the distinctive art of our time.”

Chéret’s creative advances transformed the world of advertising. His posters featured cheerful, lightly clad, often eight-feet tall beauties who became known as Chérettes. Chéret’s women were inspired by the well-heeled, garden-party women of Rococo paintings, a glorious age in France immortalized by artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau. These alluring women showcased the pleasures of Paris to tantalizing effect, including music halls, theatres, performers, beverages, medicines, and lamp oil.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Chéret was recognized in his own time as ‘the king of the poster’. One art critic remarked that “there was a thousand times more talent in the smallest of Chéret’s posters than in the majority of the pictures on the walls of the Paris Salon.” He was often imitated, and an entire generation of artists would follow and build on his work. One of them was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. To acknowledge his debt to the older artist, Lautrec sent Chéret a copy of every poster he produced.

After creating more than a thousand posters in Paris, Chéret retired to Nice in the south of France, where a museum was established in his honor in 1928, four years before the artist died at the age of 96. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Des Nice, as it’s called today, still stands as a testament to the artist’s transformation of the world of fine art.

 

 

 

Resources
Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History
Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Jules Cheret.” Updated July 21, 2009. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jules-Cheret
Graphic Design History’s “History of Posters” series, designhistory.org
Hamilton, Sarah Elizabeth. From Publicity to Intimacy: The Poster in Fin-de-siecle Paris
Ives, Colta. “Lithography in the Nineteenth Century,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan The L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, essay by Jeannine Falino. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. The Monacelli Press, New York, 2017.
Museum of Modern Art, gallery labels on works by Jules Chéret (moma.org/collection)
Museum of Art. October 2004. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lith/hd_lith.htm
“A Brief History of Broadsides,” Tavistock Books, blog.tavisbooks.com/?p=12
Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name?  Laura-Caroline

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  I’m the Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum. I help care for and manage the historic interiors of the house and our decorative arts collection; and, in addition, I manage the planning, organization, and installation of our permanent and temporary exhibitions, like Maker & Muse and our upcoming Dressing Downton installations.

How long have you worked at the Museum?  I joined the team in May of 2014, so just a little over a year.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  Originally, I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. I live in Chicago’s exciting Logan Square neighborhood now and moved to the city about six years ago, by way of Memphis, TN and Washington D.C.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I started working in galleries and museums at the age of 16 and never looked back. So, my art background is already a bit of a long one. I studied Art History at Rhodes College in Memphis (go Lynx cats!). When I finished, I received a year-long academic internship working in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curatorial and registrar’s departments, organizing exhibitions and researching for exhibition catalogues. I eventually returned to Memphis to act as project coordinator for a public art organization called the UrbanArt Commission, taking care of the city’s art collection while planning new art projects throughout Memphis with local, regional, and national artists.

But, being a total nerd and missing school, I moved to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I received dual master’s degrees in Modern Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy. While at SAIC, I worked as Chief Registrar for the Roger Brown Study Collection a house museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was curator for the school’s Creativity in the Workplace program, curating approximately fourteen exhibitions a year throughout Chicagoland, and for a year I served as the program coordinator for SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program before deciding to go back into exhibitions and collections management, which is how I found myself at the Driehaus Museum. Previously, my focus was in modern and contemporary art, so this Gilded Age collection is a new and exciting venture for me!

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  While painstakingly installing 275 pieces of jewelry last January for our Maker & Muse exhibition, it sometimes felt like we WERE trapped in the museum overnight—these shows don’t install themselves, you know!

But, if I were not installing, had free reign of the place, and were allowed to break every collections-care rule in the book? I would absolutely post up in the Library’s (attributed to the Herter Bros.) chair under the gryphon lamp with a glass of scotch, a cigar, and a good book for the night. I also played piano for many years when I was younger, so I’d likely spend time on our Chickering & Sons piano in the Drawing Room. And, if friends are invited, then I wouldn’t pass up on a dance party opportunity in the Ballroom either. The house offers lots of great overnight possibilities, now that I think about it…

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  If you’ve never been to the Museum around the winter holidays, you really have to put it on your bucket list. We’re over-the-top, but tastefully decorated with holiday décor that—while wreaking havoc on the collections team for the amount of glitter that gets deposited everywhere—looks absolutely stunning and will immediately put you in the holiday spirit, even after a long afternoon of Michigan Avenue holiday shopping. Therefore, I’d have to go with Santa Saturdays being my favorite program at the museum. Because, who doesn’t want to have brunch with the jolliest man alive in such a lovely setting!?

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I work with amazing colleagues here at the Driehaus Museum, so picking one favorite moment is difficult and with a job as multifaceted as this one, every day is an adventure! I’ll give two examples. The first is one of the most memorable, though perhaps not necessarily my favorite. Our second floor features an original water closet in between Addie’s and Mrs. Nickerson’s bedrooms, which now act as exhibition galleries for us. During my third week of working at the museum, it came to my attention that the non-functioning original facilities within that water closet had been put to use for their originally intended purposes. It was in the process of determining how to handle that situation that I realized that this new job would not be like any other I’d ever experienced…

One of the sweetest moments I’ve had yet came on the last day of installation of the Maker & Muse exhibition. Our team worked many late hours for two weeks to install this extensive exhibition. The last day of install in particular was filled with intricate installation needs and last minute touch ups, in preparation for Mr. Driehaus’s first viewing of the exhibition that evening. But, the team finished with about an hour to spare. That brief period, between putting the last necklace in its case and showing the exhibition to its first visitor, found our team sitting on the main hall steps, having the first moment in months to really absorb and observe what it was we’d all been working towards. That shared sense of calm, pride, and enthusiastic exhaustion was really very special.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.

The Museum’s new acquisition forges a special and important link between two prosperous late 19th-century businessmen and their devotion to collecting art. Samuel M. Nickerson may have lived in Chicago, while the name of William Henry Vanderbilt was synonymous with New York. But they were both enthusiastic parts of the same wave of artistic interest across America at the turn of the century, which resulted in real cultural phenomena: rooms like our Sculpture Gallery, private collections open to the public as a precursor to museums, and publications like Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper's weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper’s weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William H. Vanderbilt was the eldest son of railroad mogul Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited the largest slice of his father’s massive fortune. He did a fine job in railroads himself, and nearly doubled his inheritance by the time of his death. In 1879 he embarked on a $3 million building project that would permanently etch the Vanderbilt name in New York brownstone and American architectural history. “Nothing so magnificent had before been attempted in New York in the way of a private residence,” The New York Times remarked afterwards.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

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Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

The Vanderbilt residence at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street was technically two mansions connected by an atrium; his daughters lived in the second with their husbands. It was a feast for the eyes. The architect-decorators were Christian and Gustave Herter, German-born cabinetmakers favored by New York’s elite, and they worked with experienced architects Charles Atwood and John Snook to anchor their profuse decorative elements to a standing structure. No two rooms were alike, and all were exactly to the taste of the moment. Just like the original interior designers of the Nickerson Mansion, the Herter Brothers favored a creative pastiche of historical and cultural styles all arranged together in interesting ways. You had vast groupings of artistic objects heaped on fireplace mantels, walls divided into three or more sections before reaching the ceiling, elaborate carvings in exotic wood, and jewel-tone colors. One’s eye never quite knew where to land.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection is really a book of description. And just as we trawl through Curbed or Pinterest to see how tastemakers arrange their interiors or tune in on television for sneak peeks of celebrity’s homes, this description was hungered for by America’s new middle class and nouveaux-riche.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

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Published in limited number—1,000 editions, of which the Driehaus Museum’s acquisition is #712—of beautiful materials, included richly grained and gilt-edged brown leather and deep blue silk inner linings, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection offered entrance to the private world of the wealthiest man in America. The reader is treated to a vivid tour of the home, from the Boudoir’s ivory-inlaid ebony walls to the grand three-story Picture Gallery, as well as Vanderbilt’s private art collection, which included around 200 paintings.

 

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

V-Interior

The author, Edward Strahan (Earl Shinn), was an influential self-made American art critic who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and returned with a mission—not to make art, but to write about it. He wanted to dazzle American eyes and minds with the wonders of great art, examples of which so few of them had seen. Even the publisher, George Barrie, seemed to emphasize the artistic quality with his beautifully bound books filled with lavish artwork. A year before coming out with Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, Barrie put the visions of the 1893 Chicago’s worlds fair into people’s homes with an illustrated two-volume set, World Columbian Exposition MDCCCXCIII, Art and Architecture. He also collaborated with Shinn on a series called Art Treasures of America.

They were proponents of a vast sort of gentrification campaign for young America taking place at the end of the 19th century, which needed men like William Henry Vanderbilt. You might call this a kind of Mediciean mindset. Many Gilded Age barons like Vanderbilt saw themselves as bringers of an American Renaissance in which the powerful and wealthy contribute to the public good and encourage the flourishing of the arts. So when Vanderbilt spent over $1 million to amass works by Alma-Tadema, Bougeureau, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupré, Fortuny, Millet, Millais, Rousseau, Troyon, and Turner, he had more than his personal financial portfolio in mind. Upon the grand opening of his mansion in 1882, Vanderbilt hosted two receptions, “to one of which he invited other multi-millionaires of the town to inspect his treasures, and to the other poor artists who had never been able to see the great galleries of Europe.” Afterwards, visitors were admitted by card on Thursdays. This was, according to one publication, “an important element in cultivating the artistic taste of the metropolis.”

Gallery of Paintings

 

"Figures from 'Down to the River' by L. Alma-Tadema."

“Figures from ‘Down to the River’ by L. Alma-Tadema.”

 

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Incroyables, by F. H. Kaemmerer.

 

Like Vanderbilt, Samuel M. Nickerson opened the Sculpture Gallery to art students and other interested Chicagoans, not only his personal guests. Art collections were viewed as public treasures, obtained by privilege but not to be hoarded. Rather, they were to be shared for the enjoyment and betterment of society at large. There was a deep belief during the aesthetic movement that exposure to exceptional beauty somehow elevated us, changed us, improved us as humans. Writing about that subject today, Alain de Botton puts it like this:

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”

 

 

 

 

 

Resources
Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Bibliopolis, “Publisher: George Barrie”
Dictionary of Art Historians, “Shinn, Earl / Edward Strahan, pseudonym”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library Table, Herter Brothers (1864-1906)
The New York Times, “Frick Remodeling Vanderbilt Mansion, Will Make Over One of Famous Brownstone Twins. Alterations to Be Costly: William H. Vanderbilt Built the Two Houses in 1880 at the Cost of $3,000,000—George Vanderbilt’s Tenure.” April 16, 1905.
The New York Times, “C. Vanderbilt Gets Mansion and Art, Property Worth $6,000,000 Reverts to Him by Grandfather’s Will on Death of George W. House Let to H. C. Frick. Stands at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street and Cost $1,600,000—Art Valued Above $1,000,000.” March 10, 1914.
Nathan Silver, Lost New York, p. 121-122

By: Tasia Hoffman

On February 14, 2015, The Driehaus Museum will open an exhibit entitled Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art JewelryThis exhibition will focus on women as the creators of and inspiration for Arts and Crafts-style and Art Nouveau-style jewelry.

…Arts and Crafts?  Art Nouveau?!

Whether these art historical terms are old friends or uncharted territory, let this month’s blog post serve as a mini-prep course for February’s bejeweled extravaganza.

First up: the Arts and Crafts Movement.William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England and was shaped by the ideas of writer/critic John Ruskin and designer/activist William Morris.  These men chose not to embrace “modern life” as brought about by industrialization, instead advocating an art and a lifestyle dictated by an intrinsic set of values including work ethic, community, spirituality, and equality.  Ruskin and Morris denounced industrial capitalism, which alienated workers from their own humanity, and opposed machine-made goods, which numbed the freedom and creativity of the brain.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.

Art, they felt, should be crafted “…by the people for the people as a joy for the maker and the user” and designed in a manner that integrates functionality with supreme aesthetic quality.

Arts and Crafts objects and structures are known for their use of natural (streamlined or simplified) forms, fondness of floral and geometric repetitive patterns, and dedication to high-quality artisanship.  A wide range of influences, from medieval to Japanese, were drawn upon to produce a harmonious, but decidedly non-Victorian, aesthetic.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900

In America, the British Arts and Crafts tradition was modified by a material shift to regional resources and an aesthetic shift to include local environmental forms.  Native American and Asian design influences were readily employed, paralleling a growing interest in “handmade” appearance and simplified geometric forms.  Architect/interior designer Frank Lloyd Wright and furniture manufacturer/publisher Gustav Stickley advocated the use of machinery alongside skilled craftsworkers to expedite the furniture-making process, allow craftsworkers to operate in a more “exclusively creative” capacity, and, ultimately, draw the cost of furniture down to a middle-class price bracket.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907

 Stickley began publishing The Craftsman, a magazine that circulated the idea of Arts and Crafts interiors and products as a bridge to a more desirable, simpler life, one supportive of and connected to the ideals of an honest, hard-working America.  That being said, many of the Arts and Crafts products created still catered to an upper class audience, and, while the objects embodied romantic notions of unity, they did not make those ideas a tangible reality.

Citations:
-Miller, Angela L., et al. American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.
-Kleiner, Fred S., and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
-Photo: “Charles and Henry Greene, Mary E. Cole House, 1906-1907.” www.thecraftsmanbungalow.com
-Photo: “William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.” www.studyblue.com
-Photo: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.” www.bbc.co.uk
-Photo: “Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.” www.artsandartists.org
-Photo: “Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.” www.high.org
-Photo: “Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.” www.moma.org

By Avery Glassman — Early next month the Driehaus Museum Book Club will discuss the novel, I am Madame X, presented by its author, Gioia Diliberto. Ms. Diliberto’s novel is based on the scandalous portrait of Virginie Gautreau by American artist, John Singer Sargent.  He originally titled it, Portrait of Madame ***, in an attempt to conceal his voluptuous sitter’s identity. As far as Paris society was concerned, the woman’s identity was far from the only asset the painting failed to cover. First exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, Madame X would swiftly undo the reputation Sargent had worked years to establish.

Driehaus Museum Chicago

Portrait of Madame ***, John Singer Sargent, 1884.

Portraiture was Sargent’s business, but Madame X was not a commissioned painting. Rather, Sargent sought out Gautreau as his subject. In a letter to his friend Ben Castillo, Sargent writes, “I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think that she would allow it and is waiting for someone to pay this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris you might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent.” Born in New Orleans but raised in Paris, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau was known in international circles as a professional beauty; she transformed the Gilded Age conceit of socializing and its notions of femininity into an act of performance. Inspired by her dramatic looks but just as influenced by her social prowess, Sargent was convinced that one confidently painted portrait of Gautreau would be enough to solidify his standing as the premier portraitist in France.

At the 1884 Salon, however, the painting was ridiculed by critics and the public alike, as indecent, obscene, and even morbid. The original composition depicts the left strap of Gautreau’s gown hanging off her shoulder. “Hanging” is a misleading descriptor, however, as the strap appears tightly bound. Gautreau’s flesh puckers around the strap’s encrustations as her deltoid muscle flexes from her hand’s firm placement on the table. Were the strap to drape limply over Gautreau’s shoulder, the slippage would seem accidental and therefore innocent; the lady a mere victim of gravity. But the tension of the strap within the exhibited composition instead affirms intention, a purposefully daring modification to an already provocative outfit. To viewers at the Salon it was aggressive—certainly the last thing a woman in 1884 was supposed to be. Madame X’s dominant womanhood is just as thoroughly imbued in her assertive stance, haughty profile, and ambiguous, undomestic surroundings. It is for these reasons that Madame X continued to offend viewers, even after Sargent’s sartorial edit.

Gautreau, who had expressed satisfaction with the work in Sargent’s studio, was humiliated and irate after its unveiling. She and her mother demanded that Sargent take it down.  He refused until the bitter dispute escalated with their threats to forcibly remove the painting. Ultimately, Sargent was compelled to evade disparaging remarks in Paris by permanently relocating to London. Sargent donated Madame X to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916, along with some instructions. To the museum director Sargent wrote, “By the way, I should prefer, on account of the row I had with the lady years ago, that the picture should not be called by her name, at any rate for the present, and that her name should not be communicated to the newspapers.”

Throughout his career, the largest faction of John Singer Sargent’s clientele was American. One wonders if Samuel and Matilda Nickerson ever considered investing in a portrait by Sargent. It is unlikely that they gave it much thought after 1884, as Madame X’s unembellished, revealing gown presents a stark contrast to the heavily embroidered, conservative frocks Mrs. Nickerson was reported to have worn. The couple would certainly have caught wind of the Madame X scandal and, since their tastes were relatively traditional (as their art collection suggests), the Nickerson’s would probably have kept themselves far removed from a portraitist so avant-garde.

 

Sources:

Centeno, Silvia, and Dorothy Mahon. “A Technical Study of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 2005.

Diliberto, Gioia. “Sargent’s Muses: Was Madame X Actually a Mister?” New York Times, May 18, 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/18/arts/art-architecture-sargent-s-muses-was-madame-x-actually-a-mister.html?src=pm&pagewanted=1

Moss, Dorothy. “John Singer Sargent, ‘Madame X’ and ‘Baby Millbank’.” The Burlington Magazine, May 2001.

Ormond, Richard. Oxford Art Online / Grove Art Online entry on John Singer Sargent. September 27, 1999.

Sidlauskas, Susan. “Painting Skin: John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame X’.” American Art, Autumn 2001.

 

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