Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
The complete set of 12 lithographs, including the cover and frontispiece
Printed in 1896 by Auguste Clot, Paris
Published by Gustave Pellet, Paris, in an edition of one hundred

Signed by the artist in pencil on the inside of the cover
Each sheet numbered Serie no 28 and inscribed with the publisher’s paraphe (Lugt 1194) in brown ink
Each sheet with the publisher’s purple stamp (Lugt 1190)
An extremely fine, uniform set
On wove paper made for this publication, watermarked with the names of the artist and publisher
The cover on laid Japan paper without watermark (as published)
The full sheet, with fresh colours, in excellent condition
Sheets and images: 20 ¾ x 15 ¾ in. (52.5 x 40.3 cm.) (and similar)
Kornfeld & Klipstein, Bern
Dr. Walter Neuerburg, Cologne (acquired from the above, 10 August 1959).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
L. Delteil, Le Peintre-Graveur Illustré: Toulouse-Lautrec (Volume X), Paris, 1920,  nos. 179-189.
J. Adhémar, Toulouse-Lautrec: His Complete Lithographs and Drypoints, London, 1965, nos. 200-210.
W. Wittrock, Toulouse-Lautrec: The Complete Prints, London, 1985, nos. 155-165.
G. Adriani, Toulouse-Lautrec: Das Gesamte Graphische Werk – Sammlung Gerstenberg, Cologne, 1986, nos. 171-181.
R. Thomson, “Images of the maisons closes” in Toulouse-Lautrec, exh. cat., Yale University, New Haven, 1991.
D. Sweetman, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fin-de-Siècle, London, 1999.
J. Döring, Toulouse-Lautrec und die Belle-Époque, exh. cat., Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 2002.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Elles portfolio of 1896 is one of the most celebrated and sought-after series in the history of printmaking and a masterpiece of 19th century lithography. The prints included in this series are the culmination of the artist’s exploration of the medium, demonstrating his versatility and mastery of the lithographic technique, and revealing him as one of the greatest artist-printmakers of all time.
Beyond his virtuoso draftsmanship evident in these images, which enabled him to express the finest nuances of emotion, mood and movement with only a few lines, in this set of prints Toulouse-Lautrec employed the full technical and stylistic range available to him. The series alternates from sheet to sheet between elaborate interiors executed in a variety of colours in the spatter technique—a fine veil of ink droplets to create areas of tone—and sparse, swiftly drawn scenes printed in a single color, to which in some instances he added a background shade to create the atmosphere of a darkened room.
In the years preceding the creation of Elles, between 1892 and 1895, the artist had become well acquainted with the prostitutes who lived and worked at the brothels of rue des Moulins, rue d'Amboise and rue Joubert. As an aristocrat and a regular visitor and at times long-term guest of these so-called maisons closes, the artist lived both at the center and at the margins of Parisian life, flitting between but never fully erasing the boundaries of opposing social worlds. The women of the demi-monde fascinated Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries, most notably Edgar Degas, and their work proved to be a catalyst for the young Pablo Picasso, who arrived in Paris in 1901, the year of Toulouse-Lautrec’s death.
Most images in Elles depict scenes of daily life within a maison close, intimate observations of the women getting ready to receive their clients or being looked after by the Madame. He was particularly interested in depicting them in their daily routines, at the wash table or dozing in bed. The familiarity and sense of ease of the women with the artist enabled him to capture them in such moments of unguarded preoccupation. Toulouse-Lautrec, on the other hand, was attracted to their bohemian lifestyle and enamored with their fastidiousness, frankness and humor.
“They were his friends as well as his models. He in turn had an uplifting effect on them. In his presence they were just women, and he treated them as equals. When he ate with them, often bringing a party of friends, they held their knives and forks daintily, restrained their conversation, had the feeling of being women of some standing. Lautrec's almost womanly intuition and sympathy shone like a light for them"
(Jane Avril, quoted in: D. Sweetman, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fin-de-Siècle, London, 1999, p. 341).
The artist’s depiction of these women is sympathetic and unintrusive, despite their varying states of undress, as he explores the complexities of living as a woman and a prostitute rather than eroticizing or sensationalising their profession.
Unlike the other lithographs in the series, the most famous of them however shows a stage performer, not a prostitute, and she is depicted in a public place rather than a bedroom: La Clownesse assise is shown in her costume at a cabaret. It is a private moment nonetheless, as she sits resting on a bench at a corner, visibly tired and a bit despondent.
A dancer at the Nouveau Cirque and the Moulin Rouge, Mademoiselle CHA-U-KA-O claimed to be Japanese, yet her name is in fact a phonetic transcription of the French words “chahut” (an acrobatic dance derived from the cancan) and the chaos she caused whenever she came on stage. CHA-U-KA-O began her performing life as a lithe and supple gymnast, as evident in a photograph taken by Toulouse-Lautrec's close companion Maurice Guibert, for whom she would pose. By 1895 however, the agile, slender dancer had metamorphosed into that of the ageing, slightly overweight clownesse. The arc of CHA-U-KA-O's life, ending in physical ruin, was bound to attract Lautrec. Fascinated as he was by decadence and decline, it is his ability to empathize with his subjects and his willingness to show them in all their human frailty and vulnerability—off-stage rather than in the spotlight—that sets him apart from most of his contemporaries.
The influence of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts on Toulouse-Lautrec and the French avant-garde in general has often been pointed out. Inspired by the vivid, flat colors, strong contours and non-linear perspective, artists turned to color lithography as a truly modern medium, thereby changing the course of Western art and, at the time, causing a veritable “print rage”. In the case of the Elles-series, Toulouse-Lautrec seems to have found inspiration in a specific masterpiece of Japanese printmaking, Kitagawa Utamaro’s Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, first published in 1795. In twelve images—one for each of the traditional Japanese hours of the day—the series depicts the activities of the women in a brothel, a so-called “green house”. Utamaro (1753-1806) had spent considerable time with the women of Yoshiwara, the amusement district of Edo, and for a while had even lived with them, as Lautrec had in Paris. Just as the French artist would do one hundred years later, Utamaro depicted the women in quiet, domestic scenes—dressing, washing, resting, but never with their customers. The connections between the two print series run deep, both formally and in spirit, and it seems that Toulouse-Lautrec modelled the Elles-series very consciously on the Japanese master’s example.
The portfolio was first exhibited in 1896 in the gallery of the literary and artistic periodical La Plume at 31 Rue Bonaparte on 22 April 1896. The following year three of the prints were shown at the Salon des Indépendants and the complete set was exhibited again at La Libre Esthétique in Brussels. The art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard then exhibited the series in June of 1897 at his gallery at 41 Rue Lafitte, where it was offered complete at 300 francs or individual lithographs at 25 francs each. The considerable price at the time reflected the high production value of the portfolio as well as the esteem in which Vollard held Toulouse-Lautrec as a printmaker. Despite the publicity and notoriety that the prints attracted, very few complete sets were sold at the time, most prints being sold individually over a longer period. Complete and uniform sets such as the present one are therefore of utmost rarity—only one other example has been offered at auction within the last thirty years.
This set of Elles comes from the Neuerburg Collection, one of the most comprehensive and exquisite collections of late 19th and early 20th century graphic arts in Germany. It was acquired by Dr Walter Neuerburg, son and heir of Heinrich Neuerburg (1883-1956), who continued to use his father’s collector’s mark as he added to his family’s holdings. The set is remarkable for its excellent condition and for the luminosity and freshness of the colors, complete with the original, signed paper wrapper. The sheets have been kept boxed and away from light for over a century, and the images appear as fresh as the day they were printed in 1896.
The portfolio includes the following lithographs: Cover and Frontispiece (W. 155); La clownesse assise (Madamoiselle CHA-U-KA-O) (W. 156); Femme au plateau—Petit déjeuner (W. 157); Femme couchée—Réveil (W. 158); Femme au tub—Le tub (W. 159); Femme qui se lave—La toilette (W. 160); Femme à glace—La glace à main (W. 161); Femme qui se peigne—La coiffure (W. 162); Femme au lit, profil—Au petit lever (W. 163); Femme en corset—Conquête de passage (W. 164); Femme sur le dos—Lassitude (W. 165).

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