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A Toulouse-Lautrec Sketchbook
By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
BORN ALBI, 1864 DIED CÉLEYRAN, 1901
In leafing through this sketch book one obtains the impression that the drawings are by a man of great experience and considerable maturity. Toulouse-Lautrec was born in November 1864. Two drawings in the book are dated Nice 1880. So the artist, who was in Nice in the winter and early spring of that year, was not yet sixteen years old.
The drawings in the sketch book have an appearance of uniformity of style and accomplishment which leads us to the conclusion that this book was filled with sketches within a relatively short period of time. Joyant, in his authoritative work on Lautrec, dates a painting Mail Coach, Nice, 1881. This painting is closely related to a sketch at the beginning of our book. If Joyant's dating is correct, it is possible that Lautrec used this book during two successive vacations which he spent in that fashionable resort of the international set.
Lautrec, we know, had a passion for drawing from his early childhood. His schoolbooks and notebooks were full of quick little sketches, and his early letters were often illustrated with lively drawings and caricatures. This love for drawing was further developed after two successive accidents in 1878 and 1879 when he broke the thigh bones of both legs. The process of healing was a long and painful one. We can hardly speak of a recovery as he was crippled for life. He became dwarfed.
His father, the romantic horseman, hunter and falconer, had instilled his passion for animals, particularly horses, in his son. Lautrec attended the races, frequented the stables, watched the elegant equipages roll by, observing them with a keen eye and an almost photographic mind. Our sketch book shows that these are impressions of horses and riders in quick action, rarely in an attitude of repose (as with Degas, for instance). These fleeting impressions could not be drawn from a static model : they were the quick recording of what he observed of his material in rapid movement. Thus, so early in his life, Lautrec showed an extraordinary ability to memorize action. This faculty led to his wonderful series of drawings of the circus, which he did from memory while confined in a sanitarium in 1899. One of the really great drawings of the present book, occurring near the end, is the sketch of a trotter with jockey, approaching the spectator head on. It is the result of an instantaneous impression, or perhaps of a series of identical impressions which were superimposed in his mind. The end result is a miracle of the recording of action and the rendering of extreme foreshortening.
This boy of sixteen had an innate desire to study every detail of his subjects as an anatomist would dissect a body. On one page, towards the middle of the first half of the book, is a study of the head and right arm of a woman. She seems to grasp something in her gloved hand. The woman herself was of little or no interest to Lautrec, but as other studies on this same page show, the manner in which she held a whip was the subject of concentrated study. A horse's forelegs, with emphasis on the anatomy of the knees and hips are also subjected to close and careful analysis. Accurate knowledge of their structure was essential for precise rendering of the animal in rapid motion. A horse's hindquarters are the subject of another sketch which, however, seems to reveal a lesser degree of understanding of the anatomical structure, particularly in the section of the knees. And a drawing a few pages after the one of the forelegs, shows the left foreleg bent in at the knee. This is a sort of second step in the development of rhythmic action.
Lautrec's action studies in this book are, curiously enough, the most successful, there where memory and instantaneous observation prompt his hand. When confronted with animals or people who are not in action, when he has the opportunity to actually draw from the model, his drawing becomes stiff and self-conscious, almost awkward. His later development shows, however, that he overcame this. This observation is of interest as, with most young artists, the very opposite is the case : first, analysis of the model in repose; later, rendering of the model in action. There is a drawing by Lautrec in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago of the male model Nizzavona which he made in the Atelier Cormon in Paris in 1882. It is a typical academy study which reveals hardly more than average talent. Yet it dates two years later than the dated drawings of our sketch book. A propos of the above observation, it is revealing to compare this academy drawing with earlier action sketches.
The sketch book also contains a series of studies of heads of fashionable young women. Their pretty faces are empty, void of any characterisation. Compare them with the numerous physiognomical studies of horses. Lautrec explored and understood the individuality and every nuance of mood expressed in a horse's face. To this young connoisseur of horses they meant so much more than an attractive young woman. Later, however, women were the subjects of even more incisive study.
The one person in the sketch book who can be identified in several drawings is Lautrec's father. In one of them he is in the driver's seat of a coach. Behind him, faintly sketched in, are the figures of two footmen with folded arms. An inscription below reads Nice 1880. Four in hand chaque matin. The father is carefully drawn in pen and ink, the rest of this study is a series of quick pencil strokes. The same dignified figure with a two-pointed beard is seen on horseback and in the other coach scenes. Inspired, certainly, by the activity of his father, is the figure of a falconer. An early painting, dated 1881 (cf. Joyant, vol. 1, p. 31), shows Lautrec's father on horseback, holding a falcon, but in our sketch we see the idealized figure of a much younger man, in seventeenth century costume. Lautrec is known to have studied books on falconry and the illustrations in them probably influenced our drawing.
Of particular interest are the drawings of a young woman driving a light, elegant carriage with two swiftly moving horses. They are closely linked with, and perhaps direct studies for, a water color Sur la Promenade des Anglais, Nice (in The Art Institute of Chicago) and the small painting known as La Comtesse Noire (Wertheim Collection, New York). A similar water color is dated 1879 by Joyant (vol. 2, plate opp. p. 4). In view of the sketches and dates of this sketch book we are inclined to doubt the accuracy of Joyant's proposed date for it. The painting, on the other hand, is definitely dated Nice 1881.
Mardi Gras is one of the great and colorful festivals of Nice's tourist season. Lautrec made a sketch of one of the floats: a hut and a pine tree is built up on the float's platform, surrounded by clown-like figures.
Many of Lautrec's paintings, drawings and particularly his lithographs are signed with the characteristic monogram, consisting of the H T L, composed in a circle. On the inside of the front cover of this sketch book we find the young artist experimenting with various monograms consisting of these three letters. He comes very close to his final choice, but without the circle. The back end sheet shows a list of Russian names for dogs with the corresponding translations in French. Above this list appears his full name, written in German script Heinrich von Toulouse-Lautrec.
The materials used in the sketch book are mostly pencil or a black grease crayon resembling the well-known conté crayon. A few drawings are a combination of pencil and pen and ink which, on the whole, he handled less successfully. His pen must have been very pointed and hard and its tendency to scratch lent itself less to the easy flow of his line which he achieved when he used softer media.
The book itself is of a standard commercial variety. The paper is of the "wove " type and several pages are tinted, salmon or various shades of gray. There are forty-seven sheets, plus yellow end papers. It is bound in a stiff unbleached linen cover and the book is here reproduced in the size of the original.
We have been unable to establish the history of our book. It is said to have been in the hands of some branch of the artist's family. It may have been given by the artist's mother to a relative after his death, as a keepsake. When Joyant published his work, which contains a fairly complete catalogue of the uvre of Lautrec, he did not seem to have known this particular sketch book, although he describes numerous books which apparently resemble this one closely as to content. Each leaf was stamped with the artist's monogram in red under Joyant's supervision after Lautrec's death. All works found in his studio were similarly stamped by the artist's faithful friend and companion.
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