The Cat’s Paw by Morin-Jean

November 30th, 2017 by armstrong

This is a pure-line engraving by the very talented MORIN-JEAN (born Jean Alexis Morin, 1877-1940). It is titled “A la Patte de Chat”. While the subject evokes the very famous cabaret of Rodolphe Salis in Paris, named Le Chat Noir, this cabaret in Nantes was apparently one of a handful of places where prostitution was tolerated. The windmill is also reminiscent of Moulin Rouge. This is a beautiful composition by one of the masters of this technique.

Dulac: Sacred Landscapes

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Charles-Marie DULAC (1865-1898)
Paysage n°4

Lithograph printed in two tones on chine-collé, 1892-93.
Reference: BN-IFF 1.
Plate 4, before the snake remarque, for the set of 8 color lithographs titled Suite de Paysages. Early state proof, before the edition of 100 (printed in 6 different color variants). Before additional work throughout the stones, with the tint stone more prominent, before the promontory was added, and the sculpture effaced. We have never enccountered another impression of this state, which may be unique.
Image: 12 ⅜ x 19 ½ inches.
Scattered foxing throughout, not affecting the image much.

Lithograph printed in two tones on chine-collé, 1892-93.
Reference: BN-IFF 1.
Plate 4, with the snake remarque, for the set of 8 color lithographs titled “Suite de Paysages”. Printer’s proof, aside from the edition of 19 printed in these tones. From a total edition of 100 (printed in 6 different color variants), plus a few proofs, such as ours.
Annotated “Spécimen.  Tiré à 19 exemplaires numérotés de 81 à 100”, in pencil, in the hand of the artist.
Image: 13 ⅜ x 19 ¼ inches.

Despite living a tragically short life, and leaving behind only a small corpus of work, Charles-Marie Dulac needs no further introduction to those interested in early impressionist color lithography, or the rarified world of French symbolism. All of Dulac’s major lithographs were designed within a period of about three years. Born in Paris, Dulac has been trained in decorative painting and as a scene painter for the theatre and opera, before turning to fine art. Around 1890 he fell ill with lead poisoning as a result of years spent in industrial studios working with lead-white pigment. The illness proved terminal and Dulac died in 1898, at the age of 33.

Upon discovering his fatal illness, Dulac went through a religious conversion, moved to spiritual epiphany by the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and remained true to this religious calling to the moment of his death, being buried in his monk’s habit. The profound spiritual communion with nature, which Dulac discovered upon his conversion, is eloquently apparent throughout his surviving oeuvre.

It was through the medium of color lithography that Dulac discovered his true genius, even though his painting, which has not been studied, deserves far more appreciation than it commands today. The artist saw his works in lithography as continuous experiments in the search for the fleeting emotions of nature, expressing the spiritual aspects of landscapes. Dulac printed each of his lithographs in carefully chosen schemes of delicate, often muted colors, concentrating on mood rather than detail. Emotional and mysterious, these images take us through a series of atmospheres ranging from the uplifting and the beautiful to the somber and melancholy.

Our lithographs are two states of the same composition.  Paysages is one of two major series of prints Dulac produced. Only about 15 to 35 impressions were printed in each of four to six color schemes, from each pair of plates or stones, producing a total of roughly 100 to 120 numbered impressions of each image.  Our early state, presented first, includes the sculpture of a figure, reaching out towards a sea, atop of promontory. In the edition the sculpture is absent, as is the body of water which has been replaced by further terraces. This subject, which was also used in the artist’s other famous series, the Cantique des Créatures, is often titled La Terrasse de Vézelay.

Dulac painted the basilica in Vezelay both inside, and out quite a few times. Interestingly the artist decides to take out the sculpture and sea, thus focusing on the landscape, and changing the mood from a somber triumphalism to something more ominous. Yet the trivial drain pipe, hidden in the dark soil in the lower right corner, was kept, accounting for the presence of the reflection of a small pool of water. In this second state, the contrast of the ashen sky is quite pronounced, and focuses the attention on the light brightening up the cloud. A very limited number of changes between both states provide very different compositions. This is a technical trick at which Dulac excelled.

Houdard: Not Just Japanese Frogs

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Charles-Louis HOUDARD (1855-1931)

Color aquatint with touches of etching or drypoint
on wove SPECIAL MBM paper, before 1901.
Ref: BN-IFF 6. Edition of 50.
Signed and numbered in pencil.
Plate: 9 ½ x 13 ⅝ inches.

Charles-Louis Houdard is an artist who remains elusive despite being known to all who have taken an interest in color printmaking in France at the end of the 19th century. His most famous print, published by L’Estampe Originale is titled Grenouilles and is often mentioned in art historical literature as a textbook example of Japonism.

However to this day his nama, as well as his date of birth and death are often listed with some inaccuracy. Even the 1999 edition of Bénézit has neither date, and makes the mistake of naming two “Charles” under Houdard. The confusion likely partially emanates from the fact that the artist’s son Marcel died in 1919 some eleven years before his father (see: Le Matin (Paris), September 23, 1919, number 12991).  Recently uncovered source material now confirms that Charles Houdard died on or shortly before January 28, 1931 (see: Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, January 28, 1931, page 2, number 27).

Thanks to the inventory of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, as published in 1958, we know that only a handful of color aquatints by Houdard can be dated before 1898, and only another handful after 1908. The bulk of the approximately 70 etched color compositions by this master of the painterly print therefore must date from circa 1900 to 1905.

It is not known whether Houdard prepared his aquatint in his own studio, or who printed his etchings. We have encountered an impression of the famous Grenouilles dedicated to Henri Guérard, which may indicate that he learned the tricks of registering plates for color etchings from the intaglio master. However, due to Guérard’s death in 1897, Houdard surely must have frequented another printer.

Our composition was etched sometime around 1900 and apparently printed from three plates. The colors are subdued, and as always in the artist’s works, the mood is quiet. The stillness is conveyed by the smooth water of the pond, which reflects pale sunlight. The sun, they main actor in this overcast landscape is not directly visible. Trees and grass in the foreground cast shadows which lend it perspective. The field in the background and the sky are flattened by same source of light; while a few wrinkles breaking the surface of the water indicate just how bright this fall or winter sunlight is.

Houdard must be admired for the finesse of his aquatint, and the painterly qualities of his prints. He generally used a grain that was so fine, one can only see it by looking closely. Combined with his use of colors, the technique evokes watercolor. Aside from a handful of other artists such as Manuel Robbe, Louis Legrand, and Charles Maurin, few etchers attained such masterful painterly aquatint effects.

Soyer Lemerle: Teenage Girl Artist

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Jeanne SOYER LEMERLE (1879-1967)
Le Long de la Seine

Lithograph on thin chine paper, 1896.
Edition unknown.
Monogrammed and dated in the stone.
Image: 9 ¼ x 13 ⅝ inches.

Jeanne Soyer Lemerle (1879-1967) did not always use her husband’s last name of Soyer when signing her work.

Despite being married she signed some works with her maiden name. Little is known of her, except that she assisted her husband, Théophile Soyer (1853-1940) in his work as an enamel painter.  She married into a family of artists, but was certainly already an accomplished artist before then.  Her husband’s father, Paul Constant Soyer (1832-1903) had the same trade as his son.

Interestingly, Jeanne Lemerle was married to a man whose paternal grandmother was an also artist.  Louise-Charlotte Soyer, née Landon, who was active in the 19th century, was an engraver (etching, pure-line engraving, and wood engraving).  She was the daughter of the painter and book dealer Charles-Paul Landon (1791-0826), and married another book dealer, whose last name was Soyer. Active from 1821 to 1839 (and possibly beyond), Louise-Charlotte Soyer engraved decorative models of furniture, jewelry, as well as portraits.  This shows that Jeanne’s entry into the Soyer clan of artists was deliberate, and probably very emancipatory for a female artist of the time.

Our lithograph is dated 1896 in the stone.  Jeanne was then just seventeen years old, and married!  This artistic precociousness certainly explains why she married into an artistic trade and was able to pursue a life in the arts as a woman.  Even her stylized monogram, JSLM, shows an attention to elegance unusual for such a young woman.  The composition is dark, and conveys a sense of melancholy.  One can’t help but wonder whether the figure, walking introspectively along a Parisian quay, is not Jeanne herself.  The darkness is however broken by bright light on the woman’s face, and at the windows on the opposite riverside, which reflect into the wrinkled waters of the river.  These bright happy lights further strengthen the sense of solitude of the night walker.

This work betrays training in drawing with charcoal at an early age.  The way she uses black, with white highlights, shows a dexterity that comes from practice and some form of apprenticeship.  It is unclear who trained Jeanne Lemerle in this drawing technique.  For further reading on the practice of charcoal drawing and the use of black, we refer to the amazing exhibition at the Getty, titled Noir.

This stunning composition is printed on a beautiful sheet of chine paper.  It seems likely to have been part of a deluxe publication of some kind.  We were unable to find out which one.

Chahine: Intimate Portrait of Simone

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Edgar CHAHINE (1874-1947)
Entrant dans Son Lit (à l’Italienne)

Tempera on board, 1944 (?).
Reference: Benoît Noël page 97 (illustrated).
Signed, dated and annotated “Ste Marguerite” in the lower right.
Board: 15 ¾ x 19 ½ inches.

We add a print of the same subject matter:
drypoint and aquatint on laid paper, 1928.
Reference: Blaizot pg. 79.
Fourth state of six, before the plate was cut down.
The plate used in the final state as
an illustration for Novembre by Flaubert.
Signed in pencil.  Rare as such.
Plate: 8 ⅝ x 6 ¼ inches.


While it is difficult to put an exact number of extant painted compositions by the artist, it is clear that most of the painting from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s have disappeared. Photos and catalogue entries make their existence clear, but none seem to show up on the market or can be found in museums. Chahine picked up painting again in the late 1920’s and painted up to a few months before his death. From this latter period, only about 40 to 60 fully composed works remain, nearly all painted in tempera on board or paper.

Judging from the output of prints after World War I, Chahine continued to enjoy working in copper, as he had so avidly in the pre-war years.  The output did however diminish, and focued more one smaller subject matters, often used for book illustrations.  As late as 1937 his drypoints show vivacity and his lines remain sharp.  The few prints he made for Flaubert’s Par les Champs et par les Grèves circa 1939 reveal the artist’s visual limitation in his later years. According to his son Pierre, Edgar’s sight was diminishing, which explains his renewed interest in painting in the late 1930’s.

Many of the artist’s tempera paintings were created after the mid-1930’s. They vary in theme, often revisiting earlier intaglio compositions.  In the artist’s painted oeuvre there are about five accomplished nudes. Ours stands out for its quality. The artist used a very successful subject, which he had etching in 1928 to illustrate Novembre, another book by Flaubert.

Our painting is annotated “Ste Marguerite”. This note was added by Chahine when he sold the work to Marguerite Becker-Baillat, on her name day (probably the November 16). It is likely that the work was painted a few years prior, but no source has confirmed this. One indication, however, is the fact that the signature and the annotation are seemingly not concurrent. Nothing further is known about Marguerite Becker-Baillat.

The model for this painting is actually Chahine’s wife Simone (née Augusta-Julia Gaumet, 1899-1986), who had served as a model for all of the nudes of the late 1920’s.  Edgar met her late in life; they were married in 1921.

Derain’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon”

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

André DERAIN (1880-1954)

Pure line engraving with drypoint
on BFK Eug Delâtre laid paper, 1908 or 1913.
References: Adhémar 46; Gilbert 36
Second state of two, after the landscape was filled in.
Edition of 35 probable; always unnumbered.  Rare.
Signed in pencil.
Plate: 10 ⅜ x 7 ¾ inches.

André Derain’s stature as an artist does not equal that of Pablo Picasso; and when it comes to printmaking in particular, their output is incomparable.  Picasso created thousands of prints, while Derain made about two hundred, counting generously.  When looking specifically at cutting edge cubism Derain is probably edged out by Fernand Léger as the more accomplished and sophisticated competitor of the Spanish master.  And finally, when speaking of important cubist printmakers, Picasso, Jacques Villon, and Léger are surely regarded more highly.

All this aside, Derain cannot ever be underestimated as one of the foremost artists of the early part of the 20th century.  He proved this time and again as a painter, specifically during his fauve and cubist periods.  And while he only struck printmaking gold a handful of time, as he did with the phenomenal drypoint titled Paysage dans le Goût  Italien, even as a graphic artist Derain should be noticed.

Baigneuses, or Quatre Baigneuses dans un Paysage clearly borrows from Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907.  The poses of the women echo those painted by Picasso.  The dating of this print is difficult.  Eva Gilbert, who wrote a thesis on Derain’s output as a printmaker dates it 1908, while Jean Adhémar quotes 1913 in his 1955 exhibition catalogue.  Even the publisher of this print is uncertain.  While there seems to be a consensus that the main printing is from 1913, possibly in an edition of 35, two different publishers are mentioned. Adhémar attributes the edition to Galerie Simon, while Gilbert considers the print published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. No matter the date and publication, this elegant composition shows off Derain’s amazing control of the burin, a technique which requires strong and steady control of its tool. Touches of drypoint can be detected; mostly along the plate’s edges.  The artist uses traditional crosshatching to create shading and depth.  The various planes of the composition seem stacked, in a sculptural manner, rather than juxtaposed.  The figures contrast slightly from their background, yet many of their outlines are simultaneously absorbed by the landscape.  The elegance of this composition toys with representation and abstraction in a particularly successful manner.

Cross: Portraits of a Friend

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Henri Edmond CROSS (1856-1910)
A.  Double Portrait of Maximlien Luce Reading a Newspaper
B.  Maximilien Luce Drawing

A.  Conté crayon on thin wove paper, c. 1890.
Sheet size: 5 ¾ x 7 ½ inches.
B.  Ink drawing with pencil on laid paper, c. 1905.
With an additional pencil sketch on the verso.
Sheet size: 6 ½ x 4 ¼ inches.

Bearing the red circled HEC monogram, lower right quadrant (Lugt 1305a).
Sale of the “Atelier Henri-Edmond Cross 1856-1910”, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, October 27, 1921, lot 81.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune (likely exhibited April 10-30, 1937), Paris.
Private collection, New York.

Henri Edmond Cross, Maximilien Luce, Paul Signac, Théo Van Rysselberghe, and a few other artists, were members of a group of painters, founded under the name Néo-Impressionistes by Georges Seurat.  They began exhibiting in 1886 at the Salon des Indépendents and continued to do so.  As of 1893 they also organized their own exhibits at 20 rue Laffitte, an address known to have housed all manner of artistic exhibits.  It is in this context that Henri Edmond Cross and Maximilien Luce became friends; friendly enough for Luce to paint a major portrait of Cross in 1898, now housed by the Musée d’Orsay.

Both painters remained lifelong friends, until the untimely demise of Cross, who died of cancer days shy of his 54th birthday.  Both artists also were part of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune stable of artists; their work likely collected by the same patrons.

Both of our sheets bear the number 81 penciled on the verso.  This refers to the lot number in the atelier sale (see provenance above), which was conducted by Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune.  Evidently the gallery acquired many of the lots they were tasked to sell, including our drawings.  The Bernheim-Jeune had worked with Cross as well as Luce over the years, and surely knew these men well.  It was thus obvious to them that these two drawings belonged together despite their apparent diversity.  They would immediately have recognized the sitter in both compositions to be Maximilien Luce, even though the two sheets were drawn about 15 years apart.

The Double Portrait dates to circa 1890, around the same time as Paul Signac’s portraits of Luce .


As a matter of fact our portrait and Signac’s are so similar, Luce even wearing the same coat in both, that one can assume they were drawn simultaneously.  While Luce painted many portraits, few portraits of him remain (aside from his own self-portraits).  Signac’s was a preparatory drawing for an illustration in La Révolte (1891), a precursor to Les Temps Nouveaux, to which Luce was an active contributor.  Luce may have agreed to sit for both friends because of this connection to a publication (and the anarchist cause) in which he believed.  Signac drew profiles tending towards the statuesque.  This was appropriate given the intended purpose of the image as an official portrait.  Cross however, drew his friend in a far more intimate fashion.  The face is clearly recognizable.  Using just a few strokes, Cross shows his familiarity with the sitter.  Instead of idealizing his subject, as Signac did, the unkempt hair locks, bushy beard, warm coat and inquisitive glasses, all contribute to the effect of affection.  Luce reads quietly, unaffected by the presence of the artist nearby.  Cross brings across how comfortable the friends were in each other’s presence.  The closeness of their bond is palpable in this drawing.

The second sheet was drafted much later, probably circa 1905, at a time when Luce was known to have sported an explorer’s hat when working outside.

Here again Cross draws his friend twice, first focusing on the torso, then on his activity.  The top part of this drawing, with the recognizable hat, was drawn first.  Under the ink, a base sketch in pencil can be detected.  This suggests an incremental approach to building his composition.  After finishing this bust, Cross decided to forge ahead and sketched the lower part of Luce’s torso, seated on a chair.  This part of the drawing is ambiguous.  The back of the chair suggests the sitter to be turned away from us; though it could also be facing us.  The right arm of Luce can be seen drawing, resting on two parallel diagonal lines, representing the painter’s drawing surface.  Surprisingly, the lines below this section of the drawing seem to indicate a leg, turned towards us.  To the right, what can be construed to be an open writing bureau is suggested.  These disparate elements don’t add up to a coherent composition.  Cross clearly used a moment of Luce’s concentration on his own work to steal a few glances at his friend.  There was likely no premeditated thought as to the finality of this sketch.  Quickly Cross drew a few ideas, based on what he saw.  While he may have drawn with the thought of elaborating the composition later, it is far more likely that Cross was simply putting down what was flashing through his mind at the time. The verso of this second sheet is also of interest.  Cross turned over this drawing and used the translucency of its support to add some detail to the head of Luce.  He made use of the blank space to the left of the ink drawing on the recto, thus bumping into the edge of the sheet, and running out of space to further elaborate his composition.


Our two drawings are possibly the only surviving testimony of the artistic kinship Henri Cross felt for Maximilien Luce.

Riviere: Wicked Winds!

July 20th, 2016 by armstrong

Henri RIVIÈRE (1864-1951)
L’Enterrement aux Parapluies

Etching and aquatint printed in blue ink on wove japon paper, 1885.
References: Toudouze pg. 159; Fields pg. 85.
Edition of 15.
Signed with the artist’s red monogram stamp (Lugt 1360).
Plate: 8 ½ x 7 inches.

In many of Rivière’s early etchings atmospheric qualities are a strong compositional factor.  Considering impressionism, and the depiction of weather and light, was the artistic topic du jour in the mid-1880’s, this is not surprising.  Wind in particular seems ever present in young Henri’s prints.  In our composition, windswept rain falls diagonally from the upper right onto the row of mourners, following the hearse.  While this subject matter could easily have been gloomy, it is really quite the opposite.  The row of umbrellas all but masks the mourners.  The only distinguishable figure, aside from the undertakers at the front of the line, is a woman in the middle of the row who looks like she is being knocked off balance by the wind.  The city has all but disappeared, and if it weren’t for the front of the line indicating the subject, one could just as easily imagine this crowd huddled by the side of a horse race, as on its way to the cemetery.  A woodcut, as well as a watercolor of the same subject matter exist, and prove just how successful the artist considered this composition to be.

The quality of  the impressions of Rivière’s  early etchins epitomize his unwillingness to compromise, even at a young age.  This etching shows the artist’s deliberate commitment to excellence.  Technically speaking the artist, just 19 years old at the time this print was editioned, shows maturity beyond his years.  The japon paper used is of high quality; the printing, of a carefully mixed hue of dark blue ink, shows deliberate calibration.  The copper plate was etched in at least four states; using an etching needle, a drypoint, aquatint, stopping out, and burnishing.  This is the work of an artist in control. Rivière’s early etchings, printed in blue ink, should be regarded as part of the proto-history of fine art color printmaking in France in the 19th century.  These prints pave the way for the “explosion” of the technique in the early 1890’s.  They are also part of the true “impressionist” print history.   While Rivière is mostly recognized today as a printmaker for his color woodcuts, which were heavily influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, one also has to recognize the esthetic quality of his early etchings.  The watercolors from 1880 onward, as well as the etchings from that time, show a young artistic mind at work: influenced by his surroundings, and equally motivated by his own imagination. Henri Rivière started his existence as an artist in earnest at age 18, when he met Rodophe Salis, the owner of the famous cabaret, Le Chat Noir.  Rivière was artistically precocious and had already been painting and drawing for a few years; but he was completely unknown and was not selling any work.  The many artists passing through Le Chat Noir, and who sent materials to be published in its eponymous weekly publication, were a major influence on Rivière’s artistic development.  Rivière first helped out a bit with the publication of the magazine, for which he became the editor-in-chief in 1883.  The work at the cabaret enabled Rivière to make a living, and thus freed some of his time to make art.  His constant presence at the Chat Noir, which was frequented by many art aficionados, also helped him develop his artistic reputation. Interestingly, Rivière stepped away from formal painting at that time; while he did continue to draw and to make watercolors.  At that time, Rivière primarily turned his attention to printmaking, first timidly, then with immeasurable commitment.  The first 20 prints coming out of his hands, including ours, were etchings, and date from 1882 through 1885.  They can be divided into two groups: landscapes and “dark inventions”.  The latter are subjects such as funeral parties, a scarecrow, a guillotine, etc.

They are moody and generally printed in bluish-black ink.  These prints are extremely scarce, printed in editions of just 5 to 20 impressions.  Very few of these works have survived and only a handful can be found in public collections in the United States.

Scalbert: The Woman Who Saved France

July 19th, 2016 by armstrong

Jules SCALBERT (1851-1928)
Jeanne d’Arc (first study)

Graphite on wove paper, n.d.
Preparatory drawing for an unidentified painting or décor.
Signed in pencil in the image. Image diameter: 14 inches.
Provenance: private Midwestern collection; purchased in Brussels in the 1960’s.

Jules Scalbert trained with two 19th century masters of the historic genre, Isidore Pils and Henri Lehmann.  Like his teachers he was drawn to mythology, religion and history, using the subjects to emphasize human emotion, much in the same way as old masters had.  This predilection clearly places Scalbert in the academic tradition that was still prevalent when he came of age as a pupil in these studios.  Many painters made their living thanks to commissions, often painting particular subjects on demand. Our drawing, like many of the painter’s works, presents a figure with very soft, elegant, and balanced features.  His style was one of harmony and idealization.  This drawing of Jeanne d’Arc is one of two in our possession.  It depicts the virgin heroine of France, who stood up against the English Protestant invasion, with the strength of Catholic faith.  Her face, that of a teenage girl, is unblemished in any way.  It is framed by her hands, piously folded in front of her armor, and the laurel garland of victors crowning her hair.  Both the face and the hands are highly detailed and shaded, and contrast with the sketch of her attire and the branch in the background. The artist took the drawing one step further, fully shading the composition in a second drawing.  It is very likely that this subject led to a painting.  However, to this day, we have not been able to locate such a work.

Toulouse-Lautrec: Ready for Dinner

July 19th, 2016 by armstrong

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
L’Épervier (1re planche)
or Aigle

Lithograph printed in olive-green on simili-japon wove paper, 1897.
References: Delteil 322 ii/ii, Adriani 267, Wittrock 226.
One of a handful of impressions in the second state, with the monogram.
No first states could be found anywhere.
Annotated in ink with a menu, dated April 28, 1897.
Image: 7 ⅜ x 6 ½ inches.  Sheet: 16 ¾ x 11 ¾ inches.
It was folded, likely at the end of the meal, to be easily taken home as a memento.

This menu is extremely rare; quite possibly the last impression in private hands.  It is one of about 6 to 8 impressions according to Loys Delteil (in 1920), and one of only 4 know impressions according to Wolfgang Wittrock (in 1985). If Delteil can be trusted, there may exist one or two impressions of the first state, before the monogram.  There are however, no traces of this first state anywhere, aside from Delteil mentioning it.  Wittrock records two, of the four impressions he has encountered by 1985, in museum collections (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris & Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart). This particular copy is mentioned by Adriani in the catalogue he co-authored with Wittrock and Götz in 1976.  At the time it belonged to the famous book and print dealer Marcel Lecomte, Paris.  It seems to still be there in 1985, when Wittrock publishes his own catalogue.  I was not able to find out when this impression was sold by Marcel Lecomte, or his son Bernard.  It was acquired in 2015 from a Parisian collector.

The menu depicts a sparrowhawk or eagle atop a rabbit it has just captured.  The bird is defiantly protecting his prey, blood still dripping from its beak.  While the subject captures nature’s laws, what mostly stands out is the magnificence of the bird.  Lautrec chose this subject matter for three reasons we can think of.  First, birds of prey were used for hunting on the Chateau de Bosc estate, where young Henri spent most of his childhood.  A photograph of Henri, with his father holding a falcon, survived.

There are also a number of childhood drawings that depict such birds of prey.  The second reason for picking this subject was that Lautrec had worked on a series of illustrations for a book on natural history by Jules Renard, which was published in 1897.  A variant on the subject of the hawk (which is not as attractive as this one, in our opinion) was actually part of this series of lithographs.  Finally, Lautrec’s propensity towards whimsy cannot be discounted.  The bird is about to enjoy his meal, as are the guests to the meal listed in elegant cursive writing below the image.

It is suggested that another menu, which depicts a small bull dog, and for which a handwritten copy also exist, was made for some event for Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran, Lautrec’s cousin, and to whom Henri was close.  Both in that menu and in ours, monograms are drawn that are not Lautrec’s.  The letters in ours seem to be ETCG (or ETG), in the other TC.  Both of these could indeed refer to Lautrec’s cousin.  Then again, no further proof has been found yet. Lautrec created a number of menus over the years, but mostly around 1896 & 1897.  Some of these, like ours, have handwritten courses in ink.  One such menu, for a dinner at May Belfort’s is currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.  In this menu as in ours, one animal, the cat, is about to enjoy dinner as well!

It is quite possible that Henri, who often scribbled in his personal correspondence, used his best handwriting for these menus, and that they are in fact in his hand.  None of these menus were ever printed in larger editions, and they were clearly made for friendly events.  In the May Belfort menu, the trout the guests are about to enjoy are from the Lac Michigan.  Lautrec’s humor clearly transpires in these ephemera.

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