Toulouse-Lautrec & The Englishmen at the Moulin Rouge

In 1892, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted “The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge”, now in The Metropolitan Museum, New York. The Englishman in question is William Tom Warrener (1861-1934) who had become friends with Lautrec in the early 1890s.

htl - enlishman moulin rouge 1892 met

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge [1892, Metropolitan Museum, New York]

Patrick O’Connor (1) suggests there is a sly irony to the scene: the Englishman is mischievously characterised with a certain embarrassed reserve – note his reddening ear – as he enters into conversation with the two ladies of the Moulin Rouge (2). That the working title for the piece was “Flirt” (3) also suggests the perhaps risqué nature of their talk. Nevertheless, the painting would serve as the basis for a poster of the same name (Musee Toulouse-Lautrec), the man now reduced to a near shadow (to represent Englishmen in general, rather than portraying Warrener in particular). However, Warrener does then turn up again in another of Lautrec’s 1892 paintings: “Jane Avril Dancing”, now in the Musee d’Orsay (4) – he is at the back of the scene with an unidentified woman.

So, who was William Tom Warrener? And what was he doing in Paris in the early 1890s?

Well there is sadly rather little information on him (5), especially at this time in his life. Julia Frey writes that he was “a painter from an influential English family, who had moved to Paris in the mid-1880s to study at the Academie Julian. He moved to Montmartre in the 1890s where he met Henri [Toulouse-Lautrec]” (p.314). And, in fact, he showed work at the Paris Salon, not returning to his hometown of Lincoln until 1906 where, whilst taking up his role in the family (coal) business, he also set up the Lincolnshire Drawing Society and would, later, become President of the Lincolnshire Artists’ Society. A number of his paintings and sketchbooks (6) are now held by the Usher Gallery in Lincoln, examples of which can be seen on the artuk.org website revealing that whilst in France he worked at the artists’ colony Grez-sur-Loing and explored the bright sunlit colours of Impressionism.

However, there are also two paintings that come from his adventures in Montmartre with Toulouse-Lautrec: “Quadrille I” and “Quadrille II” (both dated circa 1890 and both in the Usher Gallery collection).

Warrener, William Tom, 1861-1934; Quadrille IWarrener, William Tom, 1861-1934; Quadrille II
Later in her biography of Toulouse-Lautrec, Julia Frey notes: “In the late 1880s and early 1890s, he befriended a number of younger English artists in Paris” (p.384). These included William Rothenstein who, in 1931, would write up his recollections of the time he spent in Paris as a young art student (7), recognising both the thrill and the folly of bohemian life as he moved from the Left Bank “all very well for poets and scholars” to Montmartre “essentially the artists’ quarter” – he was just seventeen years old.

“Puvis de Chavannes had a studio on the Place Pigalle, while Alfred Stevens lived close by, and in the Rue Victor Masse lived Degas. At Montmartre also were the Nouvelles Athenes and the Pere Lathuille, [cafes] where Manet, Zola, Pissarro and Monet, indeed, all the original Impressionists used to meet. The temptation, therefore, to cross the river and live on the heights was too strong to resist” (p.56).

It was at a restaurant in Place Pigalle that he used to meet with friends for lunch:

“The Rat Mort by night had a somewhat doubtful reputation, but during the day was frequented by painters and poets. As a matter of fact it was a notorious centre of lesbianism… [and] it was here that I first met Toulouse-Lautrec…” (p.59).

Then there was, of course, the Moulin Rouge:

“[A]n open air café-concert where one could watch people sitting and walking under coloured lamps and under the stars. Inside the great dancing hall, its walls covered with mirrors… was the dancing of the cancan. …In most places dancers performed on a stage; at the Moulin they mixed with the crowd… suddenly the band would strike up, and they formed a set in the middle of the floor, while a crowd gathered closely around them. It was a strange dance; a sort of quadrille, with [the men] twisting their legs into uncouth shapes… their partners [with] one leg on the ground, the other raised almost vertically, previous to the sudden descent – le grand ecart” (p.62).

Another student artist in their group was Charles Conder who, one evening – “having drunk more than was good for us” – suggested they paint the Moulin Rouge dancers “there and then”. Whilst I haven’t traced the “wild results” of Rothenstein’s painting-spree, the Manchester Art Gallery has Conder’s “The Moulin Rouge” (1890) which may well have been painted that drunken night.

Conder, Charles, 1868-1909; The Moulin Rouge

Indeed the script at the bottom-right of the painting reads:

“CHAS. CONDER. TO. CHAS. ROTHENSTIEN (sic) / IN  MEMORY. Of. A. PLEASANT EVENING. / 30.OCT.1890.” (8)

“Can anyone wonder that [we] were fascinated by this strange and vivid life?” (p.62), asks Rothenstein – indeed, it must have been an extraordinary time for these young artists there with the ‘in-crowd’ of bohemian Montmartre.

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Please note: this is just the beginning of a longer research piece on British artists in late 19th-century France. Any further resources or references you may have would be greatly appreciated. Please contact via Twitter @TheCommonViewer.

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(1) Patrick O’Connor: “Toulouse-Lautrec: The Nightlife of Paris” (Phaidon, 1991, p.32)
(2) The women have been identified as Rayon d’Or and La Sauterelle: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437835; although biographer Julia Frey suggests they might be La Goulue and La Mome Fromage
(3) Julia Frey: Toulouse-Lautrec – A Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994, p.314)
(4) https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/jane-avril-dancing-8969.html?cHash=8fc9922fcb
(5) See Wikipedia for a brief biographical overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_T._Warrener
(6) The sketchbooks in the The Usher Archives are undated and not digitised. I must say a huge thank you to the Collections Development Officer at Lincoln County Council, Dawn Heywood for the kind help and information she has found.
(7) William Rothenstein: “Men and memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein 1871-1900” (Faber & Faber, 1931)                                                                                                                 (8) Many thanks to Manchester Art Gallery for this information.                                               (9) There’s an extraordinary – indeed surrealist – picture by Charles Conder at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge called “A Dream in Absinthe” from 1890 (see http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=Charles%20Conder%20Absinthe&oid=14761)

PD.21-1947

 

The Words & Pictures Book Club: January 2019 – Leonora Carrington’s “The Hearing Trumpet”

Monday 14th January 2019, 2-4pm

Gleneagles Tea Rooms

Join us for the Words & Pictures book club where we read and discuss novels in which visual art and artists are relevant to the narrative.

To start the New Year, we are launching into the Surrealist world of Leonora Carrington and discussing her novel The Hearing Trumpet which Ali Smith writes is “one of the most joyful, satisfying and quietly visionary novels of the twentieth century”.

carrington - hearing trumpet

Words & Pictures meets monthly 2-4pm in the glorious surrounds of the Gleneagles Tea Rooms – where there is tea and cake a-plenty!

Gleneagles Tea Rooms

All welcome but please email me to reserve your place: chasingtales@rocketmail.com

Gleneagles Guesthouse
5-6 Clifftown Parade
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1DP

Review: The 58th Essex Open exhibition at The Beecroft Art Gallery

There is a thrill and a challenge in viewing the current Essex Open exhibition.

The thrill is that of variety, for there is no single subject theme or painting style taken up by the artists of Essex; nor – although the exhibition consists primarily of oil paintings – one medium, for there are watercolours, prints, photographs and sculptures. The challenge, then, is for the viewer: how to take on board the diversity before us as each artefact demands we look at it differently to the previous one. By the time we have reach the end of such an extensive show – divided across two floors of The Beecroft Gallery – we are exhausted, having worked our way through so many ways of seeing and responses. Looking back at the experience, certain elements rise to the surface of course; but, truly, one should return to look again and again.

(nb: images were photographed by me and are only details of the complete artworks)

“Sunlit Dinghies” by Anita Pickles & “View from Chester Wall” by Malcolm Perry

So how should we approach this exhibition? Perhaps that geographical “Essex” might be the key, for certainly many of the pictures reflect local life and everyday scenes. “Sunlit Dinghies” by Anita Pickles is an image we all recognise immediately: it could be anywhere along the coast of Essex, the tide out, the scene a snapshot as we walk along the beach on a sunny afternoon; the scent of sea air palpable. Come into town, and Malcolm Perry’s “View from Chester Wall” is again so recognisable and, despite presenting a particular place, stands for so many of our towns and streets: the bustle of Saturday afternoon shopping; the architecture of historical Essex. As with Pickles’ work, it is a view that captures both an immediately present-day scene, yet one that has been this way forever, and so stirring personal and shared memories.

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“Ralph’s – Corner of Park and Hamlet” by Stephen Gibbs

And I couldn’t resist “Ralph’s – Corner of Park and Hamlet” by Stephen Gibbs. Again it brilliantly captures an immediately recognisable scene, a somewhat dilapidated shop on a street corner that we probably pass every single day never thinking it should be elevated to ‘art’. It resonates with familiarity, as if it couldn’t be of anywhere else but Westcliff; and it stands for something – all those independent shops and businesses that cluster around Hamlet Court Road, ramshackle yes, barely surviving probably, yet remaining stubbornly “open”.

“Turbulent Sky over Fen Bridge” by Paul Franks & “Picardy Flowers” by Liz Hine

Whilst Gibbs’s picture can be framed within a ‘local’ ‘Essex’ theme, we might also recognise it within the broader contexts of art history – paintings of shopfronts by both Whistler and Sickert come to mind. Indeed a number of works in this current exhibition echo other – more famous – artists and pictures. “Turbulent Sky over Fen Bridge” by Paul Franks cannot but recall Constable in those looming, darkening clouds and gorgeously rich colours as the light picks out the bridge among the trees. It is – almost essentially – East Anglian. Then, alongside, is Liz Hine’s “Picardy Flowers” which makes us long for summer, to lie down in a field and gaze up into a blue, blue sky.

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“Costa” by Alan Woods

A more playful echoing is “Costa” by Alan Woods which transports Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” to a coffee shop in… Southend High Street? Well, it could be anywhere really. That’s perhaps the irony; the Folies-Bergere being so singularly unique; Costa so ubiquitous. Should we understand this young woman behind the counter as an icon of our times? We bestow a Romantic gaze upon Manet’s painting – imagining the bars of 19th-century Montmartre with a bohemian delight that a Costa coffee-shop could never inspire. Yet the Impressionists sought to portray ‘modern life’ – look at Manet’s barmaid again, for those bars and cafes weren’t such glamorous places at all, indeed they could be rough and threatening – she doesn’t look happy. The refrain on Gibbs’s picture reads “Are you alright my love?” which might be what the barista is asking us, but perhaps it’s what we should be asking her.

“Promenade” by William Barr & “Stand Up” by Adam Smith

A very different sort of play is afoot in William Barr’s “Promenade” as it toys with our senses: how can we look at it in a way that makes sense? Look ‘straight on’ and it seems to be an abstract ‘face’ (is it a dog, even?), the eye reflecting sea and sky; the yellow, then, might refer to a beach. Re-focus and the picture turns into a map, or an aerial view of the shoreline. Perhaps. It is brilliantly defiant. A description that might also encompass some of the sculptures in the exhibition. Adam Smith’s “Stand Up” consists of four standing panels, each collaged with images, colour and graffiti-like painting. Abstract, decorative and mesmerising, it defies categorisation, rejects labelling and refuses any translation into descriptive words: it is, for me, one of the most exciting exhibits on show.

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“On-the-Wall Revisited VI” by Steve Whittle

Depictions of local sights and scenes, echoes and allusions to a broader art history, the experience of pure aesthetic sensation… there is one painting that, for me personally, brings each of these elements together: “On-the-Wall Revisited VI” by Steve Whittle. It’s subject is the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall in Bradwell-on-Sea which has been standing against sea and sky for centuries, a place of pilgrimage, peace and spirituality set in contrast to wild nature at the edge of land and sea. Whittle captures the awe of this monumentality within the thrilling drama of art-making itself as we witness the dripping, layering, blending and scratching of colour in his portrayals of grasses and flowers.

So many other paintings should be mentioned, but the exhibition runs until 16th February – and it’s well worth a visit!

essex open 58

Art History Mornings at The Beecroft: Matisse, Derain and the shocking art of Les Fauves.

Art History Mornings at The Beecroft Gallery

Colour Goes Wild!

Matisse, Derain and the shocking art of Les Fauves

Saturday 26th January 2019, 10.30am-12.30pm

with Dr ML Banting

Join us to explore the art of Les Fauves – the ‘wild beasts’ that shocked Paris with their extraordinary use of brilliant colours led by Henri Matisse and Andre Derain in 1905.

All welcome!

matisse - fontainebleau

Henri Matisse: The Forest at Fontainebleau (1909)

– currently on display at the National Gallery, London

Meetings are held 10.30am – 12.30pm in the Beecroft Gallery lecture theatre.

Each talk costs £10 and includes tea/coffee (biscuits!)

For further information please contact Mark Banting by email  chasingtales@rocketmail.com or via twitter @TheCommonViewer

These monthly Saturday morning art history talks are educational yet informal and open to anyone with an interest in art.