Toulouse-Lautrec's Parisian posters light up Swann Auction Galleries
A trio of original posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec will lead the latest Swann Auction Galleries sale in New York.
The auction will feature more than 570 vintage posters spanning every conceivable genre, from art nouveau to exotic travel, political propaganda to circus performers, and everything in-between.
Toulouse-Lautrec produced more than 350 poster designs throughout his career, during a period when many artists looked down on the work as purely commercial.
The three examples, each offered with estimates of $20,000 - $30,000, capture the vibrant and colourful world of late-19th century Paris in which posters lined the streets, as they became an art form in their own right.
The first poster was designed in 1895 to promote La Revue Blanche, a French art and literary magazine published from 1889 to 1903. The magazine was founded by the three brothers Alexander, Thaddeus and Louis-Alfred Natanson, and was closely associated by many of Paris' leading writers and artists of the period.
Toulouse-Lautrec's poster features Thaddeus' wife Misia Natanson, a Polish pianist and socialite who served as a regular model and muse for several artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Jacques Villon. As the hostess of an influential artistic salon, Misia also became the symbol of the new magazine, and many have suggested the tenderness of Toulouse-Lautrec's portrait stems from his secret love for her.
The second poster of the trio dates from 1896, when Toulouse-Lautrec was asked by his close friend Jane Avril to help promote an appearance at the Palace Theatre in London.
Avril was the star of the Moulin Rouge and the most famous dancer in Paris, nicknamed La Mélinite after a type of explosive. She requested that the poster also feature her fellow performers Églantine, Cléopatre and Gazelle, but that the theatre name should be left off so the poster could be reused for shows back in Paris.
The third poster depicts a scene in one of Toulouse-Lautrec's favourite bars in Paris, the Irish American Bar at 33 Rue Royal. The bar attracted an eclectic patronage, from theatre performers to jockeys and trainers, and the footmen of the wealthy elite, all served by its famous Chinese-Indian bar-keeper named Ralph (as featured mixing a drink on the poster).
The poster was commissioned by La Plume, a French literary and artistic review, to promote the Paris debut of The Chap-Book, an American literary magazine which ran between 1894 and 1898.
The Swann Auction Galleries Vintage Poster sale takes place in New York on August 3.
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