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Décor indien pour le 'Chariot de terre cuite', Maquette de décor pour le théâtre de l'Oeuvre

Décor indien pour le 'Chariot de terre cuite', Maquette de décor pour le théâtre de l'Oeuvre
oil and peinture à l'essence on masonite
30 ¼ x 42 ¾ in. (77 x 108.5 cm.)
Painted in 1894
Lugné-Pöe, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
Dr Perlès, France.
C. Henry Kleemann, New York.
Ludwig Charell, Paris & New York.
Hammer Galleries, New York.
Sylvester W. Labrot, Florida, by whom acquired from the above in 1957.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 11 May 1994, lot 151.
Acquired by the present owner in the 2000s.
R. Jean, 'Revue internationale des arts et du théâtre', in L'Oeuvre, Paris, 1924-1925, pp. 7-8 (a colour facsimile illustrated n.p.).
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Dessins, Estampes, Affiches, vol. II, Paris, 1927, p. 42 (illustrated p. 206).
G. Mack, Toulouse-Lautrec, New York, 1949, p. 212.
J. Adhémar & F. Jourdain, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1952, pp. 71 & 99.
E. Stadler, 'Die Nabis in Paris und die Berliner Sezession', in Du: Kulturelle Monatsschrift, Tubingen, November 1964, p. 3 (illustrated p. 5).
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son œuvre, vol. III, New York, 1971, no. P. 534, p. 330 (illustrated p. 331; with incorect dimensions).
Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, April - May 1931, no. 189, p. 61 (titled 'Décor avec des éléphants'; with incorrect medium).
Arezzo, Museo Civico d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Arezzo, Da Picasso a Botero: capolavori dell'Arte del Novecento da una collezione privata, March - June 2004, p. 404 (illustrated p. 350).
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Le théâtre de l'Oeuvre, 1893- 1900, Naissance du théâtre moderne, April - July 2005, no. 218, p. 145 (illustrated p. 33).
Lugano, Museo d'arte della Svizzera italiana, Sulle vie dell'illuminazione, Il mito dell'India nella cultura occidentale, 1808-2017, September 2017 - January 2018, pp. 178-179 (illustrated).

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Micol Flocchini
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Lot Essay

We know from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's prolific depictions of cabaret and theatrical scenes that he was a regular spectator at the Paris stage shows, so it is hardly surprising that he should try his hand at set design. Although landscapes were of less interest to him than blunt paintings of Montmartre nightlife and portraits of its regular visitors, he nonetheless designed sets for the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre and the Théâtre Libre on several occasions.

This draft of a set design for the Sanskrit play Chariot de terre cuite was acquired by Lugné-Pöe, the actor and stage director who founded the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in March 1893 and was its director. The secular five-act play by 7th-century Indian prince, poet and playwright Shudraka relates the intrigues of a beautiful courtesan, a bankrupt merchant and a cruel prince. To stage it, Lugné-Pöe commissioned sets from Louis Valtat, Albert André and Toulouse-Lautrec at the end of 1894. Toulouse-Lautrec came up with two set designs for the play, but only one of them was built. The present work is a sketch of that single set design that was used. Between them, its cactus, lotus flowers, ruined temple, and huge elephant conjure up an oriental backdrop that transports both actors and spectators to more exotic climes. The set was acclaimed by theatre-goers, who were enchanted by this 'vision of India, suggested by essential elements: its past, with its wealth of artistic glory, the ruins of a temple, its landscapes [...], its fauna with the powerful, massive animal that is its treasure, its flora [...]' (R. Jean, L’Oeuvre, 1924- 1925). The play was performed in 1895 to triumphant acclaim.

As Toulouse-Lautrec had never in fact visited India, the oriental iconography seen here appears to have been drawn from his imagination and illustrations he had seen of this faraway land. It bears noting that the famed Moulin Rouge, which Toulouse-Lautrec famously frequented to study the nightlife of Paris, was known to harbour its own enormous elephant sculpture. This bizarre masterpiece was a relic of the 1889 Exposition Universelle which had been salvaged by the establishment's owner and erected within the gardens outside next to the stage to house the orchestra; both the structures and the animal itself bearing some resemblance to those depicted here. As such, one can surmise the possibility that we further see the artist consciously or subconsciously drawing on his own experience of performance from his spiritual home of the Paris cabaret.

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