The Pioneering Print-Maker

An aristocratic, alcoholic dwarf known for his louche lifestyle”1, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s career lasted just over a decade and coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of nightlife and culture. He created some of the most iconic depictions of nineteenth century culture and life in Paris.

After studying under academic painters that taught the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Émile Bernard, he was commissioned to produce a poster advertising the famous Moulin Rouge. This was the artist’s first experiment in the medium of printmaking and more specifically, lithography. It was a huge success, and in 1891, three thousand of Lautrec’s posters were pasted around Paris, to great applause from both the public and critics. Lautrec had become an overnight sensation and from there, became the premier poster and lithographic artist in Paris.

Using a relatively new process of colour lithography, Lautrec brought to light the potential of this medium and helped in the elevation of poster-making to a fine art. To make his lithographs, the artist first drew on a hard surface, often limestone with a material that was chemically fixed to the stone. Next, the stone washed and a printing ink rolled over the stone adhering only to the artist’s image. The paper was then laid down and pressure applied to create a print, which is a mirror image of the original drawing.

A two-toned colour lithograph, like L’Aube (The Dawn) repeats this process with another stone, each with a different colour. This poster was made to advertise the illustrated art review titled L’Aube (The Dawn), which started publishing in May 1896. The artist conveys a wonderful light and atmosphere, and demonstrates elements of his splattered ink technique, known as crachis, of which he was a pioneer. His images have become some of the most recognisable of our time, and over a century later his work still resonates with the same originality and beauty that it did at the time of creation.

We are thrilled to present this fine example of the artist’s work in the upcoming Prints & Photography auction, and look forward to sharing it with you.

ELLA PERROTTET / Art Assistant