Archives For Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Japonisme

Lindsey Howald Patton —  September 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

In 1853, an event in the world of foreign relations and commercial trade transformed Western art forever: Japan opened its borders. Wares from this once heavily isolated island in the Far East began to flow into Europe for the first time since 1633.

The effects on the West after rediscovering Japanese art and design—from painted porcelain to ukiyo-e woodcut prints, fans, bronzes, and silks—cannot be underestimated. It transformed the way great avant-garde artists like Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, and James Whistler approached color, subject, and perspective. It influenced interior design and architecture as Christopher Dresser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Frank Lloyd Wright adopted Japanese stylized nature motifs or the symmetrical simplicity of Japanese buildings and gardens. It pervaded Western textiles, sculpture, and performing arts.

This craze for Japanese art and design became known as Japonisme. The French critic Philippe Burty is said to have coined the term in the early 1870s, a few years after the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. This was the first world’s fair in which Japan participated with a national pavilion, exhibiting its art to a wider number of people than had previously seen it—about nine million of them, according to attendance figures.

Japanese Satsuma Pavilion at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris.

Japanese Satsuma Pavilion at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris.

Postcard depicting the Japan Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Postcard depicting the Japan Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

At left, the famous woodblock print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai ("The Great Wave off Kanagawa," ca. 1829-32). At right, glazed earthenware Wave Bowl by British designer Christopher Dresser, ca. 1880, echoes the curve of Hokusai's wave.

At left, the famous woodblock print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai (“The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” ca. 1829-32). At right, glazed earthenware Wave Bowl by British designer Christopher Dresser, ca. 1880, echoes the curve of Hokusai’s wave.

At left, a print by great Japanese ukiyo-e printmaker Ando Hiroshige seems to have provided a reference for American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's choice to frame his elevation drawing of the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, with draping vegetation in 1910.

At left, a print by great Japanese ukiyo-e printmaker Ando Hiroshige seems to have provided a reference for American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s choice to frame his elevation drawing of the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, with draping vegetation in 1910. Image via the Smithsonian Magazine.

Japonisme and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) in Japanese garb.

A photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) in Japanese garb.

Like many of his contemporaries in Paris, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose posters are currently on view at the Driehaus Museum in the exhibition L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters (through January 7), fell in love with Japanese art and started his own collection of inexpensive ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Flat areas of color, strong outlines, cropped compositions, and asymmetry or oblique angles—all characteristic features of ukiyo-e—began to feature prominently in Lautrec’s posters.

When depicting the performers of Paris’s bohemian Montmartre, Lautrec looked to Japanese kabuki theatre prints for his exaggerated colors, contours, and facial expressions. Kabuki is a kind of classical Japanese drama combining dance, music, and even acrobatics. A kabuki theatre print would portray one actor in full costume and makeup from the play, and audience members clamored to collect their favorites. Neither idealistic nor realistic, these prints revealed, even unflatteringly at times, the performer’s true self just behind the character he played. Likewise in Lautrec’s images of his muse Jane Avril, the avant-garde French dancer he knew well from the Moulin Rouge, we do not see a photographic representation of her looks or performance. Instead, Lautrec focused on the essence of her personality and so-called “explosive” dance style. In one famous poster from 1899 (below), he wraps a multicolored snake around her body, suggesting her sinuous movements.

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.

 

An example of a kabuki theatre print. Kabuki Actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife (Koi nyōbō somewake tazuna), by Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95), 1794. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2822.

An example of a kabuki theatre print. Kabuki Actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife (Koi nyōbō somewake tazuna), by Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95), 1794. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2822.

Side-by-side images showing how Henri de Toulouse Lautrec imitated the compositions and postures he found in Japanese kabuki theatre prints. (Left, "May Belfort" by Lautrec, 1895. Right, one print from a series called "Three Kabuki Actors  Playing Hanetsuki" by Utagawa Kuniyasu (Japanese, 1794–1834), ca. 1823. Both from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 41.12.1 and 2001.715.4a–c.

Side-by-side images showing how Henri de Toulouse Lautrec imitated the compositions and postures he found in Japanese kabuki theatre prints. (Left, “May Belfort” by Lautrec, 1895. Right, one print from a series called “Three Kabuki Actors Playing Hanetsuki” by Utagawa Kuniyasu (Japanese, 1794–1834), ca. 1823. Both from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 41.12.1 and 2001.715.4a–c.

 

Japonisme at the Driehaus Museum

The vogue for all things Japanese wasn’t only a European phenomenon. It also reached the United States, influencing great artists, collectors, and tastemakers on both coasts. Here in Chicago in the late 1800s, Samuel and Mathilda Nickerson, the wealthy family who commissioned the mansion that is today the Driehaus Museum, especially favored the Far East in their private art collection. They donated that collection to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1900, the largest gift that museum had received since its founding in 1879, and the catalogue lists 56 Japanese prints and paintings (including works by great ukiyo-e masters Hokusai, KuniyoshiUtamaro, and Harunobu), nearly 100 Japanese swords, a Japanese Buddhist shrine, 27 Japanese pipes and pouches, over 100 Japanese carvings in ivory and wood, and nearly 200 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and pottery (including three stoneware tea caddies, here, here, and here, currently on display in the Art Institute’s Asian galleries).

Artist unknown, Japanese, Meiji period. Patinated cast bronze vessel (center) and two bronze phoenix-form candelabras (at sides), c. 1893. Original to the Nickerson House. Photo by John Faier, (c) The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Artist unknown, Japanese, Meiji period. Patinated cast bronze vessel (center) and two bronze phoenix-form candelabras (at sides), c. 1893. Original to the Nickerson House. Photo by John Faier, (c) The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

They also incorporated Japanese design in their home. In the Smoking Room of the Nickerson Mansion, as part of an eclectic room design that also features elements from ancient mythology and the Italian Renaissance, a chrysanthemum-studded Lincrusta frieze encircles the upper section of the walls. Painted in rich and exotic shades of red, gold, and black, it mimics the flatness and stylization of Japanese nature patterns. Upstairs, in the Nickersons’ only son Roland’s former bedroom, original English Minton tiles surround the fireplace in a delicate display of flowering cherry blossoms—a classic homage to springtime in Japan.

You can still visit the intimate Smoking Room and Roland’s bedroom at the Driehaus Museum today to see this living testament to the influence of Japanese culture on Gilded Age style.

Japanesque Lincrusta frieze in the Smoking Room at the Driehaus Museum.

Japanesque Lincrusta frieze in the Smoking Room at the Driehaus Museum.

 

Detail of the Japanesque fireplace surround tiles in Roland Nickerson's bedroom in the Driehaus Museum. Photo by Michael Monar, (c) The Driehaus Museum.

Detail of the Japanesque fireplace surround tiles in Roland Nickerson’s bedroom in the Driehaus Museum. Photo by Michael Monar, (c) The Driehaus Museum.

Resources
“Japonisme.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jpon/hd_jpon.htm
“Japonisme.” Tate London. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/j/japonisme
“East Meets West – Japonisme and Impressionism.” The Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/my/east-meets-west-japonisme-and-impressionism/13453
“Japonism.” The Van Gogh Museum. https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/prints/subject/5772/japonism
“Style Guide: Influence of Japan.” Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/style-guide-influence-of-japan/
“Second Paris International Exposition of 1867.” National Diet Library, Tokyo. http://www.ndl.go.jp/exposition/e/s1/1867.html

 

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.