Augustus Vincent Tack’s Legacy in the Music Room

Tack installed in Music Room 1

Works by Augustus Vincent Tack on view in the Music Room. Photo: Britta Galanis

Augustus Vincent Tack has a long history here at The Phillips Collection. Tack and Duncan Phillips met in 1914 at Yale University where Phillips fostered a deep appreciation for Tack’s work. This quickly became a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. Phillips was a driving force for the showing of Tack’s work in many museums, while Tack contributed to the growth of Phillips’s collection. Eventually Phillips encouraged him to make the move to Washington, DC, where he would continue his career making portraits for politicians and high ranking officials such as Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Phillips commissioned Tack to make a collection of works specifically with the museum’s renowned Music Room in mind. Several of these works are currently hanging in their originally intended space at the Phillips. When walking into the room, I was immediately struck by how perfectly these works fit into the space. The Music Room, with its dark and rich walls, is instantly brightened by Tack’s works.

Tack installed in Music Room 2

Works by Augustus Vincent Tack on view in the Music Room. Photo: Britta Galanis

One of the works on display is Time and Timelessness (The Spirit of Creation), which was a preparatory sketch for the fire curtain at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. These late works done by Tack show his experimentation with scale and mood. He experimented often with sponges and rollers on canvas, which gave his work a rather ancient and unfinished quality. Now is your chance to visit the Music Room and view it the way Duncan Phillips might have.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern

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.

Performers of the Belle Époque: Aristide Bruant

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.

Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ambassadeurs, Aristide Bruant, 1892. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in orange, red, blue and black on two sheets of wove paper, 52 15⁄16 × 36 5⁄8 in. Private collection

Presenting himself as the voice of the underclass, Aristide Bruant performed in the persona of a rough laborer singing songs in Parisian slang about the conditions of the poor. After making a name for himself at the Chat Noir cabaret, he opened the Mirliton in 1885, warning his audience that it was “for those seeking to be abused.” Once inside, patrons, especially those “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” were subjected to his mocking insults. Bruant’s notoriety grew beyond Montmartre to more sophisticated entertainment venues near the Champs-Élysées.

Toulouse-Lautrec created this striking poster for Bruant’s limited engagement at the Ambassadeurs, one of the city’s oldest café-concerts. He first drew his sitter at half-length in pencil, then created a large scale watercolor and gouache study. With bold, expansive regions of color, Toulouse-Lautrec simplified and synthesized Bruant’s most identifiable attributes—his overbearing confidence and his signature costume (dark cloak, hat, red scarf, boots, and walking stick)—and immortalized the entertainer. After Pierre Ducarre, the manager of the Ambassadeurs, rejected this radical poster, Bruant threatened: “You will post it on either side of the stage. . . . If it is not done . . . then I’m not going on!” Both the performance and the poster were tremendously successful, but Ducarre refused to pay for the design.