Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Cover for 'Yvette Guilbert' (On stage [Sur la scène])

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
artist France 1864 – 1901

Cover for 'Yvette Guilbert' (On stage [Sur la scène]) Yvette Guilbert 1898 planographic , crayon transfer lithograph with pen transfer lithograph signatures, printed in black on cream, wove paper
49.5 (h) x 38.0 (w) cm
?/350 , First edition
Reference: Wittrock 272 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra NGA 2011.830.9 The Poynton Bequest 2011

The chanteuse Yvette Guilbert was one of Lautrec’s favourite subjects. At the theatre and the café-concerts she half sang, half spoke her chanson réaliste. Her repertoire included songs about the life of the down-and-out in Paris, by lyricists Aristide Bruant and Léon Xanrof; she also sang of darkness and indulgence, such as the Symbolist poet Jean Lorrain’s verse in praise of drugs in La morphinée:

Oh! The sweetness of morphine!

Its delicious coolness under the skin!

Like pearls running liquid through
your bones.[1]

Guilbert was an extraordinary and idiosyncratic figure in the French demi-monde and much admired, even by the most jaundiced of observers. Edmond de Goncourt, for instance, noted for his barbed commentary on the Parisian social milieu, was fulsome in his praise of her:

What is so original about her lively wit is that her modern style is studded with adjectives borrowed from the Symbolist and Decadent poets, archaic expressions and old verbs like ambulate brought back into use: a mish-mash, a hotch-potch of the present-day Parisian idiom with the facetious language of Rabelais.[2]

The noted writer and critic Gustave Geffroy, compared her to the renowned chanteuse Thérésa (Emma Valladon), who astonished audiences during the Second Empire, and he wrote a paean in fulsome praise of Guilbert’s performance:

Even before we know what she is singing we are aware that she sings well and speaks well. That is her first secret: she pronounces, she articulates, she sends the words out to every part of the hall or across the garden of the Champs-Elysées, she pierces the clouds of tobacco smoke, the vapours of alcohol, and the smog of human breath. Each syllable comes to us like an arrow shot from throat, teeth, and tongue, borne on a wave of clear, transparent sound, at once firm and frail, like a vibrating crystal. Her second secret is her flair as a singer, her unerring scent for the aroma of decay known as the fin de siècle, that odious term which has no meaning but is beginning to acquire one, and which one might as well resign oneself to writing. She stands there for no other purpose than to set up a flesh-and-blood statue, gay and macabre, in pale gown and black gloves, and to let a bored and caustic voice be heard that sings of gay living to airs fit for a burial ceremony …

As she is, then, living arabesque, cool ironist, précise diseuse, full of inner laughter, sensual and tart, comedian to her fingertips, muse of an atmosphere of death …[3]

This series, created in Lautrec’s last years, reveals his remarkable draughtsmanship. With a few simple lines and strokes of a lithographic crayon he captured the antics of this extraordinary white-faced phantom, lit from below, or as she sidles up to the stage curtain, or darts on stage. Lautrec often exaggerated Guilbert’s features to a degree that was a caricature in order to capitalise on her unusual looks, with angular facial features and a painfully thin body, draped in a dress that revealed her lanky gait and with her signature long black gloves.

JK

 

[1] Jean Lorrain, La morphinée, quoted in Arnould de Liederkerke, La belle époque de l’opium: Anthologie littéraire de la drogue de Charles Baudelaire á Jean Cocteau, Paris: Editions de la différence, 1984, p. 98.

[2] Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Pages from the Goncourt Journal, Robert Baldwick (ed.), Harmondsworth, Middlesex and New York: Penguin, 1984, p. 386.

[3]Gustave Geffroy, Yvette Guilbert, translated by Barbara Sessions, New York: Walker and Company in association with the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, 1968, p. [1].

The chanteuse Yvette Guilbert was one of Lautrec’s favourite subjects. At the theatre and the café-concerts she half sang, half spoke her chanson réaliste. Her repertoire included songs about the life of the down-and-out in Paris, by lyricists Aristide Bruant and Léon Xanrof; she also sang of darkness and indulgence, such as the Symbolist poet Jean Lorrain’s verse in praise of drugs in La morphinée:

Oh! The sweetness of morphine!

Its delicious coolness under the skin!

Like pearls running liquid through
your bones.[1]

Guilbert was an extraordinary and idiosyncratic figure in the French demi-monde and much admired, even by the most jaundiced of observers. Edmond de Goncourt, for instance, noted for his barbed commentary on the Parisian social milieu, was fulsome in his praise of her:

What is so original about her lively wit is that her modern style is studded with adjectives borrowed from the Symbolist and Decadent poets, archaic expressions and old verbs like ambulate brought back into use: a mish-mash, a hotch-potch of the present-day Parisian idiom with the facetious language of Rabelais.[2]

The noted writer and critic Gustave Geffroy, compared her to the renowned chanteuse Thérésa (Emma Valladon), who astonished audiences during the Second Empire, and he wrote a paean in fulsome praise of Guilbert’s performance:

Even before we know what she is singing we are aware that she sings well and speaks well. That is her first secret: she pronounces, she articulates, she sends the words out to every part of the hall or across the garden of the Champs-Elysées, she pierces the clouds of tobacco smoke, the vapours of alcohol, and the smog of human breath. Each syllable comes to us like an arrow shot from throat, teeth, and tongue, borne on a wave of clear, transparent sound, at once firm and frail, like a vibrating crystal. Her second secret is her flair as a singer, her unerring scent for the aroma of decay known as the fin de siècle, that odious term which has no meaning but is beginning to acquire one, and which one might as well resign oneself to writing. She stands there for no other purpose than to set up a flesh-and-blood statue, gay and macabre, in pale gown and black gloves, and to let a bored and caustic voice be heard that sings of gay living to airs fit for a burial ceremony …

As she is, then, living arabesque, cool ironist, précise diseuse, full of inner laughter, sensual and tart, comedian to her fingertips, muse of an atmosphere of death …[3]

This series, created in Lautrec’s last years, reveals his remarkable draughtsmanship. With a few simple lines and strokes of a lithographic crayon he captured the antics of this extraordinary white-faced phantom, lit from below, or as she sidles up to the stage curtain, or darts on stage. Lautrec often exaggerated Guilbert’s features to a degree that was a caricature in order to capitalise on her unusual looks, with angular facial features and a painfully thin body, draped in a dress that revealed her lanky gait and with her signature long black gloves.

JK

 

[1] Jean Lorrain, La morphinée, quoted in Arnould de Liederkerke, La belle époque de l’opium: Anthologie littéraire de la drogue de Charles Baudelaire á Jean Cocteau, Paris: Editions de la différence, 1984, p. 98.

[2] Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Pages from the Goncourt Journal, Robert Baldwick (ed.), Harmondsworth, Middlesex and New York: Penguin, 1984, p. 386.

[3]Gustave Geffroy, Yvette Guilbert, translated by Barbara Sessions, New York: Walker and Company in association with the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, 1968, p. [1].

The chanteuse Yvette Guilbert was one of Lautrec’s favourite subjects. At the theatre and the café-concerts she half sang, half spoke her chanson réaliste. Her repertoire included songs about the life of the down-and-out in Paris, by lyricists Aristide Bruant and Léon Xanrof; she also sang of darkness and indulgence, such as the Symbolist poet Jean Lorrain’s verse in praise of drugs in La morphinée:

Oh! The sweetness of morphine!

Its delicious coolness under the skin!

Like pearls running liquid through
your bones.[1]

Guilbert was an extraordinary and idiosyncratic figure in the French demi-monde and much admired, even by the most jaundiced of observers. Edmond de Goncourt, for instance, noted for his barbed commentary on the Parisian social milieu, was fulsome in his praise of her:

What is so original about her lively wit is that her modern style is studded with adjectives borrowed from the Symbolist and Decadent poets, archaic expressions and old verbs like ambulate brought back into use: a mish-mash, a hotch-potch of the present-day Parisian idiom with the facetious language of Rabelais.[2]

The noted writer and critic Gustave Geffroy, compared her to the renowned chanteuse Thérésa (Emma Valladon), who astonished audiences during the Second Empire, and he wrote a paean in fulsome praise of Guilbert’s performance:

Even before we know what she is singing we are aware that she sings well and speaks well. That is her first secret: she pronounces, she articulates, she sends the words out to every part of the hall or across the garden of the Champs-Elysées, she pierces the clouds of tobacco smoke, the vapours of alcohol, and the smog of human breath. Each syllable comes to us like an arrow shot from throat, teeth, and tongue, borne on a wave of clear, transparent sound, at once firm and frail, like a vibrating crystal. Her second secret is her flair as a singer, her unerring scent for the aroma of decay known as the fin de siècle, that odious term which has no meaning but is beginning to acquire one, and which one might as well resign oneself to writing. She stands there for no other purpose than to set up a flesh-and-blood statue, gay and macabre, in pale gown and black gloves, and to let a bored and caustic voice be heard that sings of gay living to airs fit for a burial ceremony …

As she is, then, living arabesque, cool ironist, précise diseuse, full of inner laughter, sensual and tart, comedian to her fingertips, muse of an atmosphere of death …[3]

This series, created in Lautrec’s last years, reveals his remarkable draughtsmanship. With a few simple lines and strokes of a lithographic crayon he captured the antics of this extraordinary white-faced phantom, lit from below, or as she sidles up to the stage curtain, or darts on stage. Lautrec often exaggerated Guilbert’s features to a degree that was a caricature in order to capitalise on her unusual looks, with angular facial features and a painfully thin body, draped in a dress that revealed her lanky gait and with her signature long black gloves.

JK

 

[1] Jean Lorrain, La morphinée, quoted in Arnould de Liederkerke, La belle époque de l’opium: Anthologie littéraire de la drogue de Charles Baudelaire á Jean Cocteau, Paris: Editions de la différence, 1984, p. 98.

[2] Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Pages from the Goncourt Journal, Robert Baldwick (ed.), Harmondsworth, Middlesex and New York: Penguin, 1984, p. 386.

[3]Gustave Geffroy, Yvette Guilbert, translated by Barbara Sessions, New York: Walker and Company in association with the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, 1968, p. [1].



Image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue entering the Moulin Rouge [La Goulue entrant au Moulin Rouge] 1892
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Mrs David M. Levy