VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF ERNST BEYELER
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Miss May Belfort

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Miss May Belfort
inscribed 'MAY BE' (lower centre)
peinture à l'essence and gouache on paper laid down on canvas
32¾ x 24 3/8 in. (83 x 62 cm.)
Painted in 1895
Marcel Guérin, Paris.
César M. de Hauke, Paris.
Frank H. Ginn, Cleveland, OH, by 1933.
Mr & Mrs Frank K. Griesinger, Gates Mill, OH, by 1944.
Acquired from the above by the late Ernst Beyeler, Basel.
G. Coquiot, Lautrec, ou quinze ans de moeurs Parisiennes, 1885-1900, Paris, 1921, p. 164.
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1926, p. 290.
G. Mack, Toulouse-Lautrec, New York, 1938, p. 176.
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1952, p. 6.
J. Lassaigne, Le goût de notre temps, Lautrec, Geneva, 1953, p. 79.
H.P. Landolt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Farbige Zeichnungen, Basel, 1954, no. 17 (illustrated).
G. Caproni & G.M. Sugana, L'Opera completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1969, no. 424a, p. 114 (illustrated).
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, vol. III, New York, 1971, no. 589, p. 363 (illustrated).
J. Polasek, Toulouse-Lautrec Drawings, New York, 1975, no. 12 (illustrated).
Louisiana Revy, vol. 35, no. 1, November 1994, p. 39 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Peintures et lithographies originales de Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1910, no. 25.
Paris, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Exposition rétrospective de l'oeuvre Toulouse-Lautrec, 1914, no. 155.
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1929.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Trentenaire, 1931, no. 139.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec, 1933. New York, Knoedler Gallery, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paintings, Drawings and Posters, 1937, no. 21 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Modern Drawings, 1944.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Toulouse-Lautrec, 1946, no. 29, p. 38 (illustrated).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, March - April 1947.
Cleveland, Museum of Art, Toulouse-Lautrec, January - February 1951.
Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Toulouse-Lautrec, October - December 1955, no. 62 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute, January - February 1956.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paintings, Drawings, Posters and Lithographs, March - May 1956, no. 33.
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, April - June 1968, no. 14.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Images of the 1890s, November 1985 - January 1986, no. 267, p. 232 (illustrated p. 236).
Humlebaek, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Toulouse-Lautrec and Paris, November 1994 - February 1995, no. 39 (illustrated).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Qui a peur du rouge?, June - September 1995, no. 73 (illustrated).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, From Manet to Gauguin, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from Swiss Private Collections, June - October 1995, no. 63 (illustrated p. 163); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art, October 1995 - January 1996; and Nagoya, Matsuzakaya Art Museum, February - March 1996.
Seoul, Gana Art Center, From Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism, April 1996.
Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Exhibition from Swiss Private Collections, Coordinated by Ernst Beyeler, May - June 1996, no. 9, p. 35 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Nagasaki, Huis ten Bosch Museum of Art, June - August 1996; Kyoto, Municipal Museum of Art, August - September 1996; and Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Museum of Art, October - November 1996.
Andros, Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Toulouse-Lautrec - Woman as Myth, June - September 2001, no. 6 (illustrated).
Special notice
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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's life has become the stuff of legend, not least because he immortalised, in his pictures and in the stories about his life, the decadence and glamour of the cabarets of fin-de-siècle Paris. Indeed, many of the names of the performers in the café-concerts of the age live on in part through Toulouse-Lautrec's iconic posters and pictures of the time. Executed in 1895, Miss May Belfort is a vivid, lively picture of the singer of the same name, one of a group of depictions of her that Toulouse-Lautrec made that year. This picture would serve as the basis for one of Toulouse-Lautrec's celebrated posters; in fact, he had been approached by May Belfort to create a poster to advertise her run at the Petit Casino that year. Belfort would go on to inspire a number of depictions by Toulouse-Lautrec, including a series of lithographs. In his monograph on the artist, Jean Bouret discussed their acquaintance:
'the ideal companion for the Irish Bar was May Belfort, a dark-haired Irish girl with an exquisite complexion who had made her debut in London and then come to Paris, singing at the Eden Concert, the Jardin de Paris, the Olympia, and the Décadents in the rue Fontaine. She was a friend of Jane Avril and of another dancer, May Milton. Lautrec soon made a conquest of her, for behind a demure exterior she concealed a highly-developed taste for vice. She had an affair with Jane Avril, but was not, like May Milton, a declared and exclusive lesbian. If a micheton - a casual contact who would pay for her favours - came along, she would take him. She was known to some people as "the orchid" because of her pink, petal-like skin, and to others as "the frog", because of her mouth. Lautrec was the antithesis of a micheton, and she soon slipped away from his embraces, but she still posed for him' (J. Bouret, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1964, pp. 176-77).

The poster for which Belfort posed has since been widely published and has become an icon in its own right; however, it is fascinating, looking at Miss May Belfort, to note some of the key differences between the two works. The poster has a very different dynamism, in part because of the solid red swathe of the singer's dress; in Miss May Belfort, by contrast, the red is made all the more lively by Toulouse-Lautrec's vigorous brushwork, with the slashing strokes of her swaying garment which deliberately taper out towards the bottom, adding an ethereal air that also creates a contrast with the more densely-worked area of the face, the hair and the cat.

The various elements of the poster, including the name of the singer herself, present in Miss May Belfort as an abbreviated 'MAY BE', and the grid of the wall in the background, are all present here. However, in Miss May Belfort, the face and the hair in particular have been rendered with particular attention, showing the incredible ability of the artist to penetrate beneath make-up, beneath veneers, and create grippingly psychological depictions of his subjects. The raking lighting from below that Toulouse-Lautrec has captured in this picture removes some of the prettiness present in the poster, allowing the artist instead to reveal more of the character and the nature of his subject. It was this trait, this ability to show the humans around him as they were, that lends many of his works such a timeless character; it has been suggested that his own hatred of the way people treated him because of his conspicuously short stature, the product of an accident, may have given him an extra insight into creating his searingly penetrating and perceptive portraits; Toulouse-Lautrec's ability to show an unvarnished yet truthful image of his friends and acquaintances may also have been a result of the fact that, because of his extensive allowance, he hardly needed to sell his works and therefore could essentially do what he wanted. This is clearly the case with Miss May Belfort which presents this character with a similar directness seen in some of the images of his friend and muse, Jane Avril.

May Belfort was born May Egan in Ireland and had made her name on the stage in London before moving to Paris. Her act, which Lautrec would have seen at the Cabaret des Décadents, consisted of dressing as a child, similar to those from Kate Greenaway's books, and singing a range of songs, some of them folk or cabaret classics, others which deliberately played upon double entendres. It is singing one of these, perhaps her best-known number, in which she held a little black cat, that she appears to be shown in Miss May Belfort.

According to another book, Toulouse-Lautrec himself, a keen aficionado of so much that came from England, would sing refrains from the same song while working (see P. Huysman & M.G. Dortu, Lautrec by Lautrec, trans. C. Bellow, London, 1964, p. 113). Belfort, when not holding her cat, would often stand rigid on the stage, her arms pinned to her sides, as is depicted in another of Toulouse-Lautrec's pictures of her, Miss May Belfort en bébé de Kate Greenaway, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Belfort's black cat was briefly famous because of her stage appearance, and featured on both a Christmas card and a menu that Toulouse-Lautrec made for her in 1896. In fact, possibly inspired by Belfort, Toulouse-Lautrec appears himself to have acquired a cat.

It is a tribute to the quality and importance of Miss May Belfort that it has such an extensive exhibition history, having already been shown in 1910 before it featured in the important posthumous retrospective organised by Toulouse-Lautrec's friend, Maurice Joyant, in 1914. This picture was formerly owned by César M. de Hauke, an important art critic, dealer and collector who was in part responsible for the publication of M.G. Dortu's catalogue raisonné of Lautrec's works. De Hauke's attention and his own bequest of works on paper helped raise the entire standard of the important collection of nineteenth century French drawings owned by the British Museum in London.

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