An Attitude of Possibilities

Exhibition at The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Installation view of The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

On April 30th, The Phillips Collection will say goodbye to The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture by artist Jacob Lawrence. The series portrays the life of the former slave turned leader of Haiti’s independence movement. Printmaker and artist Lou Stovall worked closely with Jacob Lawrence during his lifetime, getting to know him both as an artist and as a friend. Stovall spoke about Lawrence’s legacy with the Phillips in a 2001 interview: “He (Lawrence) painted people who changed the lives of other people, people who dedicated themselves to justice and honor.”

Jacob Lawrence utilized his artistic talents in a way that allowed him to portray his narratives in a most captivating way. He explored both realism and abstraction, with personal vision and popular style, said Stovall. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture will surely be missed by staff and visitors alike. In the words of Lou Stovall, “The triumph of the human spirit is to rise above limitations, to create a sense of order, a place of well-being, an attitude of possibilities, and a desire for accomplishment. Together, Jacob and I did that.”

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern

Taking Inspiration From Degas and Utamaro

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

Divan Japonais_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, 1892–93. Crayon, brush, spatter, and transferred screen lithograph, printed in four colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in black, yellow, and red on wove paper, 31 3/4 × 23 15⁄16 in. Private collection

Divan Japonais advertises the reopening of a café-concert located on the rue des Martyrs, renovated to be Japanese in theme. For this work, Toulouse-Lautrec adapted a Japanese aesthetic—flat cropped shapes, unusual vantage points, dark contours, and vibrant colors—featured in work like Kitagawa Utamaro’s The Nakadaya Teahouse. By the 1880s, Toulouse-Lautrec had seen ukiyo-e prints at Paris galleries and the Exposition Universelle. Like many of his contemporaries, Toulouse-Lautrec collected Japanese art and even ordered specialty supplies from Japan.

For the poster, Toulouse-Lautrec also modified key motifs from Edgar Degas’s influential painting The Orchestra at the Opera, such as the cropped view of a performance and the stage obstruction of the double bass. He shows Jane Avril as a spectator, clad in a black dress and hat, with her date, critic Édouard Dujardin, a great supporter of Japanese art. Both appear more engaged in their surroundings than the entertainment. On stage, distinguished by her long black gloves, is singer Yvette Guilbert, her head cropped by the curtain. Guilbert described the venue: “I mustn’t raise my arms incautiously or I should knock them against the ceiling. Oh! That ceiling where the heat from the gas footlights was such that our heads swam in a suffocating furnace.”

Toulouse-Lautrec and Cycle Michael

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

Simpson Chain, The

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Simpson Chain, 1896. Brush, crayon, and spatter lithograph, printed in three colors. Key stone printed in blue, color stones in red and yellow on wove paper, 32 5⁄8 × 47 1/4 in. Private Collection

Following the invention of the pneumatic tire in 1888, cycling became a fashionable, modern-day sport. Competitive cyclists raced at Vélodrome Buffalo and Vélodrome de la Seine on Sunday afternoons, with Toulouse-Lautrec in attendance. In 1896, Louis Bouglé, the French representative of the English Simpson cycling company, commissioned Cycle Michael, which advertises a bicycle chain. Bouglé also managed Welsh racing champion Jimmy Michael, shown here sucking a toothpick as he is timed by trainer “Choppy” Warburton.

Bouglé rejected the poster design due to the inaccurate rendering of the chain product. Toulouse-Lautrec printed 200 impressions in olive-green for cycling fans.

The Simpson Chain—Toulouse-Lautrec’s second attempt at the Simpson cycling company’s commission—was a success. For this work, he accurately depicted the chain and infused the scene with dozens of cyclists zipping around the track, their blurring wheels creating the effect of speed. French cyclist Constant Huret follows two pacing riders, the first partially cropped to reinforce movement. In the center of the ring stand Bouglé and company owner William Spears Simpson.