Toulouse-Lautrec grew up in an aristocratic family in which riding and hunting were the principal occupations. The artist was therefore a lifelong horseman, albeit only to a certain degree due to his congenital health conditions causing severe physical limitations. Unable to participate in various activities, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the arts; as a child, he could often be found drawing his father’s dogs and horses, or copying British prints of the same subjects. This interest was likely heightened by his first teacher, the deaf-mute artist René Princeteau, who was known for his fashionable sporting pictures. The artist’s fascination with horses endured throughout his career, with a particularly strong revival towards the end of his life, when his internment at the Neuilly clinic of Dr. Sémalaigne allowed him to live near the Bois de Boulogne and Longchamp tracks.
Painted a year apart, in 1879 and 1880, the present work and its sister piece (see subsequent lot) exemplify Toulouse-Lautrec’s fascination for this subject. In the 1879 work, a horseman, dressed in black pants and a bright red overcoat, re-straps the saddle of his horse. The animal, his robe glistening, appears tense—its right hindleg is contracted and hovering above the ground, while its head is low, ears upright, clearly watchful and observant of his companion’s action. Behind them, the autumnal forest of poplars fades away in the artist’s broad brushstrokes, highlighting the focus on the close pair in the foreground. The protagonists in the 1880 painting appear to be the same as in 1879—a rider with a bright red overcoat accompanied by his steed. However, the horseman is now bent over a body of water—maybe a pond or a stream—washing his hands or freshening up, while his horse stands calmly behind him, resting from the hunt. The fall hues of ochre, deep green and maroon have turned to lighter greens, warm yellows and periwinkle blues, possibly depicting an earlier time in autumn. As he often did around this period, Toulouse-Lautrec signed these paintings with the patronym "Monfa"—short for his full family name, Toulouse de Lautrec-Monfa. First exhibited together at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris in 1948, these two paintings are being offered from a Private West Coast Collection, after having been reunited over thirteen years ago.