"In February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec collapsed from fatigue and alcohol addiction and was confined by his family to a sanatorium on the outskirts of Paris. Like other artists of sensitive personality, he could not bear imprisonment, and after a brief period, embarked on a project to prove the integrity of his artistic faculties for himself as well as for his doctors. With the help of his devoted friend and dealer, Maurice Joyant, Lautrec worked on an album of circus drawings, made especially meaningful since they depend on memories from earlier circus visits instead of his usual aide-mémories of sketchbooks and photographs.
From his confinement came a set of thirty-nine chalk and colour pencil vignettes of circus rehearsals and performances, and during this time, he probably executed a few monotypes. The most distinctive example, Au Cirque: le Clown, represents a moment of working a circus trick. The trainer, holding a whip in one hand and a saddle in the other, observes the spirited horse as it cavorts around the arena. As one curving diagonal suggests the spatial structure, all other descriptive aids are eliminated - there is no background, shading, or modelling to indicate the placement of the figural elements in their environs. Sketchy contour lines give a sense of animation and a few touches of colour - bits of red on the circus ring and face of the clown, green of the saddle, and mustard yellow on the performer's boots add highlights.
In the drawings, the circus figures are strongly outlined and shown with extraordinary precision; they firmly project from the totally vacant background and, because of their exaggerated proportions, take on a sinister effect. In contradistinction, the monotype is summarily impressionistic by brisk calligraphic brushstrokes and is imbued with a sense of vitality and whimsy. Like earlier brush and ink drawings, Lautrec skims across the sheet using a thin brush loaded with ink that dissipated before the lines were complete. Since there is no platemark and his circumstances were limited, it is entirely possible that Lautrec transferred by hand the painted drawing from the plate to the paper. The signature HTL within a circle (standard) monogram was placed on many of Lautrec's works after his death indicates that he considered this monotype to be a finished work of art." (The Painterly Print -- Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 138)
Wolfgang Wittrock, in a written communication dated 12 October 1989, agrees that this monotype is clearly the primary impression and that the example illustrated in the catalogue raisonné (W. 338) is, in fact, secondary.