A Print in Eight Parts

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.

Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender, Half-length, 1895. Crayon, brush, and spatter lithograph, printed in eight colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in yellow, red, dark pink, turquoise-green, blue, gray, and yellow-green on wove paper. State IV/IV, 12 15⁄16 × 9 5⁄8 in. Private collection

Marcelle Lender found fame as Galswinthe in Hervé’s operetta Chilpéric, revived by the Théâtre de Variétés in 1895. Toulouse-Lautrec attended 20 performances, making sketches from the audience. He immortalized the red-headed actress in the painting Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in Chilpéric and in 13 prints. After developing sketches and trial proofs for this lithograph, Toulouse-Lautrec worked closely with master printer Henri Stern at Ancourt to manage its production in four editions. Printed in eight colors from eight separate stones, it stands as proof of Toulouse-Lautrec’s mastery of lithography. Its fourth state, seen here, was reproduced in the influential German art magazine Pan. Its reference to performance, make-up, costumes, and stylish coiffures shows the influence of Japanese prints like Moatside Prostitute by Utamaro.

The Photographer Sescau

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.

The Photographer Sescau (1896)

Photographer Sescau

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Photographer Sescau, 1896. Brush, crayon, and spatter lithograph, printed in five colors. Key stone printed in blue, color stones in red, yellow, and green on wove paper, remarque in black, 23 7⁄8 × 31 ½ in. Private Collection

In 1895 and 1896, Toulouse-Lautrec was taking on more projects from contacts outside the entertainment industry. Friend Paul Sescau commissioned this poster to promote his photography studio at 9 place Pigalle. It shows a woman scurrying away from the man behind the camera, alluding to Sescau’s notoriety as a philanderer. Toulouse-Lautrec only used a horizontal orientation for his posters on six occasions.

The Ambiguity of a Photograph, Part 1: Aesthetic Historical Documents

Photographs are historical documents. They capture a split second of a particular moment. A slice of life.

A photograph doesn’t lie.

Well, that’s not always true; especially in the age of Instagram filters and Photoshop. The history of the medium is filled with photographers who obsessively edited, altered, and cropped their images. In the darkroom and today on computers, light and shadow can be manipulated until the photographer is satisfied. Even what photographers choose to capture and print is very selective. One only has to look at the contact sheets of some of the most famous photographers to see the countless images that were left unaltered and never printed.

siskind_Chicago 30

Aaron Siskind, Chicago 30, 1949. Gelatin silver print, 13 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2004

I first encountered Aaron Siskind’s Chicago 30 (1949) a few weeks ago. Currently located in the original house of the museum, the work sits above one of the old tiled fireplaces. First drawn to the dramatic contrast of black and white, I marveled at the work’s ability to capture and hold my attention. Photography always grabs me, but usually what I like about the medium is the ability to place the content within a time or a place. This photo is removed from all context. It is unclear what has been photographed by Siskind. The only hint of context is the title, Chicago 30.

In the early years of his career, Siskind engaged with traditional documentary photography, often through a socially engaged lens. One of Siskind’s most well-known projects is the Harlem Document. The project focuses on documentation, but Siskind’s eye for artistry is present particularly in one of his most famous works, Savoy Dancers.

Compared to his documentary work and given its lack of context and content, can Chicago 30 be considered a historical document? This photograph captures what Siskind saw through his camera lens, but we, the viewer, don’t know or understand what he saw. The work can be considered documentation of a particular moment in Siskind’s life, but without concrete information and context, the viewer is left only with the aesthetics of the photograph.

This is a multi-part blog post; check back next week for Part 2.

Emma Kennedy, Marketing & Communications Intern