Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | The Simpson chain [La chaîne Simpson]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

The Simpson chain [La chaîne Simpson] 1896 brush, crayon and spatter lithograph, printed in three colours
85.1 (h) x 121.9 (w) cm
Reference: Wittrock P26 Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1945

Lautrec created the image The Simpson chain [La chaîne Simpson] for the English cycling company, Simpsons. He was enthusiastically fond of sport, despite his own physical shortcomings, and had been introduced to the French representative for the Simpson company, Louis Bouglé, by the playwright and cycling fanatic, Tristan Bernard – who had changed his name from Paul Bernard because he felt Paul was too ordinary. He had met Lautrec while a journalist and comic writer for La Revue blanche. However, by the 1890s at various times he managed two velodromes in the Paris surrounds – Vélodrome Buffalo and Vélodrome de la Seine. He was also the editor of the magazine Le Journal des vélocipédistes.

The bicycle had been invented over a century before, but with the addition of the pneumatic tyre in 1889, developed by a Scotsman J.B. Dunlop, the sport’s popularity grew rapidly in France, and towards the end of the nineteenth century it was seriously competing with horse racing for crowds of spectators. Cycling so enthralled Parisians, including women, that many advertisements appeared in local papers asking for prospective husbands who owned bicycles.[1] Le Tour de France would solidify this popularity with its first race in 1903. In his poster Lautrec evokes the dynamism of cycle racing, with the main figure slightly raised out of his saddle, the tandem riders in front, the peloton behind him, and the onlookers and brass band in the centre.

An art enthusiast, Bouglé brought Lautrec to England to meet his team. On his return to Paris, the artist wrote to his mother:

I was with a team of bicyclists who’ve gone to defend the flag the other side of the Channel. I spent 3 days outdoors and have come back here to make a poster advertising ‘Simpson’s Lever Chain’, which may be destined to be a sensational success’.[2]

His first attempt at the poster, The cyclist Michaël, with Welsh racing champion Jimmy Michaël, shown typically sucking on a toothpick, watched by his trainer ‘Choppy’ Warburton, one of Lautrec’s friends, and the cycling journalist Frantz Riechel, was rejected by Bouglé.

The fault with the initial attempt was that it did not accurately show the bicycle’s chain and sprocket, the product that the poster was commissioned to promote. Lautrec came back with The Simpson chain design, which was approved. It focuses on the French cyclist Constant Huret, shown behind the back wheel and chains of two unidentified cyclists, as if poised to overtake. The front tandem rider has been partially cropped out of the poster to evoke a sense of movement. This motion is reinforced by the peloton in the upper corner of the print. Here Lautrec’s image of two blurred wheels and a series of overlapping figures creates the effect of speed, with the group appearing to ride a single multi-seated bicycle. In the centre of the velodrome, the artist has included Bouglé and the company owner, William Spears Simpson. The address of their Paris shop in the overlaid text refers to Bouglé by his nickname ‘Spoke’. This striking poster demonstrates how the artist’s brilliantly bold graphic style, using the three primary colours, intensifies the advertising message.

SM

 

[1] Henri Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Humphrey Hare, London: Perpertua Books, 1962,
p. 205. The author also notes that Prefecture of Police banned women from wearing Zouave trousers (women’s cycling trousers) in the confines of Paris,
p. 205.

[2] Lautrec to his mother, early June 1896, in Lucien Goldschmidt and Herbert Schimmel (eds), Unpublished correspondence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, London: Phaidon, 1969. letter no. 204, p. 187.

Lautrec created the image The Simpson chain [La chaîne Simpson] for the English cycling company, Simpsons. He was enthusiastically fond of sport, despite his own physical shortcomings, and had been introduced to the French representative for the Simpson company, Louis Bouglé, by the playwright and cycling fanatic, Tristan Bernard – who had changed his name from Paul Bernard because he felt Paul was too ordinary. He had met Lautrec while a journalist and comic writer for La Revue blanche. However, by the 1890s at various times he managed two velodromes in the Paris surrounds – Vélodrome Buffalo and Vélodrome de la Seine. He was also the editor of the magazine Le Journal des vélocipédistes.

The bicycle had been invented over a century before, but with the addition of the pneumatic tyre in 1889, developed by a Scotsman J.B. Dunlop, the sport’s popularity grew rapidly in France, and towards the end of the nineteenth century it was seriously competing with horse racing for crowds of spectators. Cycling so enthralled Parisians, including women, that many advertisements appeared in local papers asking for prospective husbands who owned bicycles.[1] Le Tour de France would solidify this popularity with its first race in 1903. In his poster Lautrec evokes the dynamism of cycle racing, with the main figure slightly raised out of his saddle, the tandem riders in front, the peloton behind him, and the onlookers and brass band in the centre.

An art enthusiast, Bouglé brought Lautrec to England to meet his team. On his return to Paris, the artist wrote to his mother:

I was with a team of bicyclists who’ve gone to defend the flag the other side of the Channel. I spent 3 days outdoors and have come back here to make a poster advertising ‘Simpson’s Lever Chain’, which may be destined to be a sensational success’.[2]

His first attempt at the poster, The cyclist Michaël, with Welsh racing champion Jimmy Michaël, shown typically sucking on a toothpick, watched by his trainer ‘Choppy’ Warburton, one of Lautrec’s friends, and the cycling journalist Frantz Riechel, was rejected by Bouglé.

The fault with the initial attempt was that it did not accurately show the bicycle’s chain and sprocket, the product that the poster was commissioned to promote. Lautrec came back with The Simpson chain design, which was approved. It focuses on the French cyclist Constant Huret, shown behind the back wheel and chains of two unidentified cyclists, as if poised to overtake. The front tandem rider has been partially cropped out of the poster to evoke a sense of movement. This motion is reinforced by the peloton in the upper corner of the print. Here Lautrec’s image of two blurred wheels and a series of overlapping figures creates the effect of speed, with the group appearing to ride a single multi-seated bicycle. In the centre of the velodrome, the artist has included Bouglé and the company owner, William Spears Simpson. The address of their Paris shop in the overlaid text refers to Bouglé by his nickname ‘Spoke’. This striking poster demonstrates how the artist’s brilliantly bold graphic style, using the three primary colours, intensifies the advertising message.

SM

 

[1] Henri Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Humphrey Hare, London: Perpertua Books, 1962,
p. 205. The author also notes that Prefecture of Police banned women from wearing Zouave trousers (women’s cycling trousers) in the confines of Paris,
p. 205.

[2] Lautrec to his mother, early June 1896, in Lucien Goldschmidt and Herbert Schimmel (eds), Unpublished correspondence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, London: Phaidon, 1969. letter no. 204, p. 187.

Lautrec created the image The Simpson chain [La chaîne Simpson] for the English cycling company, Simpsons. He was enthusiastically fond of sport, despite his own physical shortcomings, and had been introduced to the French representative for the Simpson company, Louis Bouglé, by the playwright and cycling fanatic, Tristan Bernard – who had changed his name from Paul Bernard because he felt Paul was too ordinary. He had met Lautrec while a journalist and comic writer for La Revue blanche. However, by the 1890s at various times he managed two velodromes in the Paris surrounds – Vélodrome Buffalo and Vélodrome de la Seine. He was also the editor of the magazine Le Journal des vélocipédistes.

The bicycle had been invented over a century before, but with the addition of the pneumatic tyre in 1889, developed by a Scotsman J.B. Dunlop, the sport’s popularity grew rapidly in France, and towards the end of the nineteenth century it was seriously competing with horse racing for crowds of spectators. Cycling so enthralled Parisians, including women, that many advertisements appeared in local papers asking for prospective husbands who owned bicycles.[1] Le Tour de France would solidify this popularity with its first race in 1903. In his poster Lautrec evokes the dynamism of cycle racing, with the main figure slightly raised out of his saddle, the tandem riders in front, the peloton behind him, and the onlookers and brass band in the centre.

An art enthusiast, Bouglé brought Lautrec to England to meet his team. On his return to Paris, the artist wrote to his mother:

I was with a team of bicyclists who’ve gone to defend the flag the other side of the Channel. I spent 3 days outdoors and have come back here to make a poster advertising ‘Simpson’s Lever Chain’, which may be destined to be a sensational success’.[2]

His first attempt at the poster, The cyclist Michaël, with Welsh racing champion Jimmy Michaël, shown typically sucking on a toothpick, watched by his trainer ‘Choppy’ Warburton, one of Lautrec’s friends, and the cycling journalist Frantz Riechel, was rejected by Bouglé.

The fault with the initial attempt was that it did not accurately show the bicycle’s chain and sprocket, the product that the poster was commissioned to promote. Lautrec came back with The Simpson chain design, which was approved. It focuses on the French cyclist Constant Huret, shown behind the back wheel and chains of two unidentified cyclists, as if poised to overtake. The front tandem rider has been partially cropped out of the poster to evoke a sense of movement. This motion is reinforced by the peloton in the upper corner of the print. Here Lautrec’s image of two blurred wheels and a series of overlapping figures creates the effect of speed, with the group appearing to ride a single multi-seated bicycle. In the centre of the velodrome, the artist has included Bouglé and the company owner, William Spears Simpson. The address of their Paris shop in the overlaid text refers to Bouglé by his nickname ‘Spoke’. This striking poster demonstrates how the artist’s brilliantly bold graphic style, using the three primary colours, intensifies the advertising message.

SM

 

[1] Henri Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Humphrey Hare, London: Perpertua Books, 1962,
p. 205. The author also notes that Prefecture of Police banned women from wearing Zouave trousers (women’s cycling trousers) in the confines of Paris,
p. 205.

[2] Lautrec to his mother, early June 1896, in Lucien Goldschmidt and Herbert Schimmel (eds), Unpublished correspondence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, London: Phaidon, 1969. letter no. 204, p. 187.




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