Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | German Babylon [Babylone d'Allemagne]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

German Babylon [Babylone d'Allemagne] 1894 brush and spatter lithograph, printed in five colours
119.1 (h) x 83.2 (w) cm
Reference: Wittrock P12 Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1945

This is one of two posters that Lautrec created to advertise the novels of Victor Joze, his Polish friend and neighbour.[1] Joze, whose actual surname was Dobrski de Zastzebiec, wrote socially critical fiction: German Babylon was one of five novels of his The social menagerie [La ménagerie sociale] series.[2] Subtitled ‘Berlin morals’, the novel tackles social and political corruption and debauchery in the German state in a bitingly satiric style. It follows the lives and loves of a group of German men – gentlemen and army officers – and the surrounding circle of women. The book is set in a range of licentious establishments, including cabarets and brothels, and condemns a behaviour and lifestyle the equivalent of which Lautrec himself enjoyed in the Parisian arrondissement of Montmartre. Ironically Lautrec, an habitué at such haunts, chose a military scene as the focus of his poster.

Here Lautrec brilliantly captures the energy of the horses and riders with just a few lines, in a radical composition of cropped figures – a lesson learnt from Edgar Degas. In the novel Joze describes the men as ‘superbly mounted at the head of their squadrons’.[3] Lautrec’s scene is dominated by the powerful hindquarters of the largest white horse and rider, preceded by three khaki-green horses who exit the top of the composition. Characteristic of the artist, those riders are shown in silhouette, their heads cropped out of the image. The poster also reveals other of his signature design elements such as the figure in profile in the foreground and the splashes of brilliant colour. The large white horse and rider pass by a sentinel’s box where a figure – a caricature of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II – stands rigidly to attention with the bayoneted rifle on his shoulder slightly obscuring the face. Lautrec chose this scene from chapter 8 of the novel, where the main characters take part in a military parade viewed by the Kaiser.

In this poster Lautrec returns to his early love of horseflesh. Several studies demonstrate how he gradually enlarged the white flank of the main animal, creating a crowded scene and a more dominant image, with only patches of detail.[4] This is evident in the strolling couple on the right – the woman’s eyes follow the main rider in an appreciatively appraising manner, while her partner frowns in annoyance. On the left, the striped guardhouse provides a strangely geometric element rarely seen in Lautrec’s graphic work. Its rigid proportions also provided the spine when the image was used on the book’s cover.[5]

France’s devastating defeat in the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian war had created considerable anti-German feeling. Both the book and poster exacerbated this sentiment considerably. The book’s title refers to the German capital Berlin as the Whore of Babylon. Aware of the furore that the book might cause, Joze’s preface warns readers that ‘it is probable that our “friends” beyond the Rhine will not be happy reading this volume’.[6] That was quite true and a political scandal ensued. The German ambassador to France called for the poster and book to be withdrawn immediately. Lautrec, however, refused, despite an appeal also from the author who felt that the combination of the military visual image with the novel’s anti-German tone might lead to a police ban on the book.

SM

[1] See also p. 178.

[2] Two of the other covers for this series were designed by Neo-Impressionist artist Paul Signac.

[3] Quoted in Charles F. Stuckey, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1979, p. 221.

[4] See M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol 3, P.533, P.532; vol. 5, D.3.563, D.3.663; and vol. 6, D.3.755.

[5] See http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=11784, accessed 25 September 2012.

[6] Quoted in Stuckey, p. 221.

This is one of two posters that Lautrec created to advertise the novels of Victor Joze, his Polish friend and neighbour.[1] Joze, whose actual surname was Dobrski de Zastzebiec, wrote socially critical fiction: German Babylon was one of five novels of his The social menagerie [La ménagerie sociale] series.[2] Subtitled ‘Berlin morals’, the novel tackles social and political corruption and debauchery in the German state in a bitingly satiric style. It follows the lives and loves of a group of German men – gentlemen and army officers – and the surrounding circle of women. The book is set in a range of licentious establishments, including cabarets and brothels, and condemns a behaviour and lifestyle the equivalent of which Lautrec himself enjoyed in the Parisian arrondissement of Montmartre. Ironically Lautrec, an habitué at such haunts, chose a military scene as the focus of his poster.

Here Lautrec brilliantly captures the energy of the horses and riders with just a few lines, in a radical composition of cropped figures – a lesson learnt from Edgar Degas. In the novel Joze describes the men as ‘superbly mounted at the head of their squadrons’.[3] Lautrec’s scene is dominated by the powerful hindquarters of the largest white horse and rider, preceded by three khaki-green horses who exit the top of the composition. Characteristic of the artist, those riders are shown in silhouette, their heads cropped out of the image. The poster also reveals other of his signature design elements such as the figure in profile in the foreground and the splashes of brilliant colour. The large white horse and rider pass by a sentinel’s box where a figure – a caricature of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II – stands rigidly to attention with the bayoneted rifle on his shoulder slightly obscuring the face. Lautrec chose this scene from chapter 8 of the novel, where the main characters take part in a military parade viewed by the Kaiser.

In this poster Lautrec returns to his early love of horseflesh. Several studies demonstrate how he gradually enlarged the white flank of the main animal, creating a crowded scene and a more dominant image, with only patches of detail.[4] This is evident in the strolling couple on the right – the woman’s eyes follow the main rider in an appreciatively appraising manner, while her partner frowns in annoyance. On the left, the striped guardhouse provides a strangely geometric element rarely seen in Lautrec’s graphic work. Its rigid proportions also provided the spine when the image was used on the book’s cover.[5]

France’s devastating defeat in the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian war had created considerable anti-German feeling. Both the book and poster exacerbated this sentiment considerably. The book’s title refers to the German capital Berlin as the Whore of Babylon. Aware of the furore that the book might cause, Joze’s preface warns readers that ‘it is probable that our “friends” beyond the Rhine will not be happy reading this volume’.[6] That was quite true and a political scandal ensued. The German ambassador to France called for the poster and book to be withdrawn immediately. Lautrec, however, refused, despite an appeal also from the author who felt that the combination of the military visual image with the novel’s anti-German tone might lead to a police ban on the book.

SM

[1] See also p. 178.

[2] Two of the other covers for this series were designed by Neo-Impressionist artist Paul Signac.

[3] Quoted in Charles F. Stuckey, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1979, p. 221.

[4] See M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol 3, P.533, P.532; vol. 5, D.3.563, D.3.663; and vol. 6, D.3.755.

[5] See http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=11784, accessed 25 September 2012.

[6] Quoted in Stuckey, p. 221.

This is one of two posters that Lautrec created to advertise the novels of Victor Joze, his Polish friend and neighbour.[1] Joze, whose actual surname was Dobrski de Zastzebiec, wrote socially critical fiction: German Babylon was one of five novels of his The social menagerie [La ménagerie sociale] series.[2] Subtitled ‘Berlin morals’, the novel tackles social and political corruption and debauchery in the German state in a bitingly satiric style. It follows the lives and loves of a group of German men – gentlemen and army officers – and the surrounding circle of women. The book is set in a range of licentious establishments, including cabarets and brothels, and condemns a behaviour and lifestyle the equivalent of which Lautrec himself enjoyed in the Parisian arrondissement of Montmartre. Ironically Lautrec, an habitué at such haunts, chose a military scene as the focus of his poster.

Here Lautrec brilliantly captures the energy of the horses and riders with just a few lines, in a radical composition of cropped figures – a lesson learnt from Edgar Degas. In the novel Joze describes the men as ‘superbly mounted at the head of their squadrons’.[3] Lautrec’s scene is dominated by the powerful hindquarters of the largest white horse and rider, preceded by three khaki-green horses who exit the top of the composition. Characteristic of the artist, those riders are shown in silhouette, their heads cropped out of the image. The poster also reveals other of his signature design elements such as the figure in profile in the foreground and the splashes of brilliant colour. The large white horse and rider pass by a sentinel’s box where a figure – a caricature of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II – stands rigidly to attention with the bayoneted rifle on his shoulder slightly obscuring the face. Lautrec chose this scene from chapter 8 of the novel, where the main characters take part in a military parade viewed by the Kaiser.

In this poster Lautrec returns to his early love of horseflesh. Several studies demonstrate how he gradually enlarged the white flank of the main animal, creating a crowded scene and a more dominant image, with only patches of detail.[4] This is evident in the strolling couple on the right – the woman’s eyes follow the main rider in an appreciatively appraising manner, while her partner frowns in annoyance. On the left, the striped guardhouse provides a strangely geometric element rarely seen in Lautrec’s graphic work. Its rigid proportions also provided the spine when the image was used on the book’s cover.[5]

France’s devastating defeat in the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian war had created considerable anti-German feeling. Both the book and poster exacerbated this sentiment considerably. The book’s title refers to the German capital Berlin as the Whore of Babylon. Aware of the furore that the book might cause, Joze’s preface warns readers that ‘it is probable that our “friends” beyond the Rhine will not be happy reading this volume’.[6] That was quite true and a political scandal ensued. The German ambassador to France called for the poster and book to be withdrawn immediately. Lautrec, however, refused, despite an appeal also from the author who felt that the combination of the military visual image with the novel’s anti-German tone might lead to a police ban on the book.

SM

[1] See also p. 178.

[2] Two of the other covers for this series were designed by Neo-Impressionist artist Paul Signac.

[3] Quoted in Charles F. Stuckey, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1979, p. 221.

[4] See M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol 3, P.533, P.532; vol. 5, D.3.563, D.3.663; and vol. 6, D.3.755.

[5] See http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=11784, accessed 25 September 2012.

[6] Quoted in Stuckey, p. 221.




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