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Monsieur Emile Davoust

Monsieur Emile Davoust
signed 'HTLautrec' (lower left)
oil over pencil on board laid down on board
15 x 10 1/2 in. (38 x 26.7 cm.)
Painted in 1889
Emile Davoust, Arcachon (acquired from the artist).
L. Bernard, Paris (by 1914, until at least 1926).
Private Collection, Lausanne
Alfred Hausamann, Zurich (1939, then by descent).
Acquired by the late owner, 2001.
T. Duret, Lautrec, Paris, 1920 (illustrated, pl. XXXVIII).
G. Coquiot, Lautrec ou quinze ans de mœurs Parisiennes, 1885-1900, Paris, 1921, p. 122.
A. Astre, H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1925, p. 82.
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1926, vol. I, p. 266.
G. Mack, Toulouse-Lautrec, New York, 1938, pp. 271-272.
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son œuvre, New York, 1971, vol. II, p. 162, no. P. 332 (illustrated, p. 163; with incorrect dimensions).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, May 1902, no. 61.
Paris, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Exposition rétrospective de l'œuvre de Toulouse-Lautrec, July 1914, p. 9, no. 11.
Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gemälde und Bildstudien, November 1986-March 1987, p. 98, no. 36 (illustrated in color, p. 99).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Although he primarily painted the nocturnal spectacles of fin-de-siècle Paris, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was not immune to the pleasures of nature. During the summer months of the late 1880s, the artist frequented the seaside resort town of Arcachon, near Bordeaux in southwestern France—not far from the Château Malromé, where the artist’s mother lived. It was on his annual visit in 1889 that the artist painted this portrait of Emile Davoust aboard his sailing yacht, Cocorico, anchored in the Bay of Arcachon.
The name of Davoust’s yacht is the French onomatopoeia for the crow of a rooster—French for “cock-a-doodle-doo!” This ejaculatory phrase was the battle cry of the Gallic rooster, an ancient national symbol sometimes associated with French naval culture. Davoust may or may not have been a military man himself; he has been identified as an artist, writer and amateur archaeologist born in the city of Orléans in 1845. By the time Toulouse-Lautrec painted his portrait in 1889, Davoust had certainly broached middle age. Despite the evident softening of his waist and jaw lines, however, Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of him evinces the straight-forward confidence and virility of a man who is the master of his fate, as well as the captain of his own ship.
As evidenced by Monsieur Emile Davoust, Toulouse-Lautrec is rightfully considered to be one of the most incisive portraitists of his generation. His accomplishments within this genre were considerable; in addition to his ability to quickly convey a convincing physical likeness, he also managed to capture his subject’s individual personalities, as well as more ephemeral psychological and emotional shifts. Toulouse-Lautrec painted a wide range of characters, from stage performers to prostitutes. Yet Monsieur Emile Davoust may be more specifically connected to a series of portraits of bourgeois and aristocratic men in their natural habitats—backstage at the Opéra de Paris, seated at a cabaret, or hanging out in Toulouse-Lautrec’s own studio. As Richard Thomson has written of this category in Toulouse-Lautrec’s oeuvre, “In all these portraits, Lautrec's friends read as individuals when one knows their names and as types if not. Each one could stand for the boulevardier: masculine, prosperous, sexually independent, attuned to the modern world” (Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, 2005, p. 68).
Toulouse-Lautrec typically emphasized the figure over setting, and the present work is no exception. Davoust is here represented clad in casual boating attire: a plaid sweater over gray slacks with a jaunty matching cap, and a wooden pipe dangling from his mouth.
Davoust’s body is framed by the structure of his boat; he stands in the open hatch, the portal between the deck and the bottom of the boat, with his back towards the stern. (As the art historian Götz Adriani wrote in the 1986 exhibition catalogue, Toulouse-Lautrec: Gemälde und Bildstudien, it is possible the painter may have deliberately cropped the legs of his subject, creating the visual illusion that Davoust is of the same diminutive stature as the artist himself). Above Davoust’s head is the long wooden boom, the horizontal pole that controls the white main sail, here shown furled.
Monsieur Emile Davoust also demonstrates Toulouse-Lautrec’s brilliant eye for color: the composition is rife with the acid green and vivid turquoise of the placid bay, as well as deeper blues and purples—similar to the color palette of his contemporaneous paintings of urban nightlife. The artist was as sensitive to the extreme, disorienting visual effects of daylight as he was electric and gas lamps; consider, for example, the long purple shadow cast by Davoust against the wooden deck of the boat, which appears bleached by the harsh summer sun.
Monsieur Emile Davoust has been traced to the collection of Louis Bernard, who collected a number of portraits by Toulouse-Lautrec between 1900 and 1914. Bernard's collection included Femme assise dans un jardin (1891, National Gallery, London); Jane Avril regardant une épreuve (1893, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City) and Alfred La Guigne (1894, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), all of which were oil paintings executed on a support of cardboard. The present work was also featured at the first posthumous retrospective exhibition staged at the Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie. in Paris, the year following the artist’s death in 1901.

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