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Item 555 - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Catalog 439 (Oct 2014)

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Toulouse-Lautrec's hardcover school notebook from circa 1876, when he was about 12 years old, featuring the letters "T L" affixed to the front cover, 6.75 x 8.5, totaling 87 pages written in Latin in Lautrec's hand, as well as his ownership signature on the first page, "H. de T. Lautrec." Although he adds "Fables d'Esope" beneath his name, the passages cover a vast array of topics typical of a 19th-century child's education, including summaries of events in classical history, moral reflections, religious lessons, and philosophical musings. Each piece is about a page long and headed with a brief title. Brief translated excerpts follow:

The notebook begins with a passage entitled "Men’s Firmest Defense Is in Piety," in part: "O Lord, blessed are they who have put their hope in You! For when desolation invades their spirits, oppressed with the burden of affairs, they flee to You, and then, forgetting their sorrows, they draw strength and peace of mind from their source. You shelter them in a paternal embrace and spread before them the sacred light of faith…O most sweet, nourishing religion and most holy faith, who can live without you." Lautrec was raised by his devoutly religious and overbearing mother, and began his formal schooling in 1872 at the prestigious Lycee Fontanes in Paris, but withdrew in 1875 due to his poor health. His mother's presence in his life at this time is certainly discernible in his writings on religion and philosophy in this notebook.

The piece on page 30 is headed "On Socrates," which is followed by "On Fables." The latter, in part: "What is a fable but a tale for the improvement of men’s morals, generally wrapped in an amusing image, in which the pleasant and the useful, although most unlike in nature, conspire to mutually adorn and defend one another? What do you suppose that those ancient inventors of tales intended with so many and such ingenious fictions? Just to tickle the ears of their readers with a vain arrangement of words? Not at all, but rather, when they put trees and animals on stage, their aim was that the bad, contemplating their deformity as in a mirror, would avoid rashness in counsel, avarice in the search for wealth, pride in command, and fraud in all aspects of life." This is an especially interesting piece, as Lautrec studied the fables of Phaedrus and La Fontaine while in school and these likely informed the allegorical animals that appear in his late drawings.

He further explores the classical world in "On the Phoenicians" on page 43, in part: "The Tyrians took their origin from the Phoenicians. Those who inhabited the seashore, being troubled by frequent movements of the earth in their homeland, founded a city that they called Sidona on account of the abundance of fish on those coasts, for the Phoenicians call fish sidon. Then many years later, having been driven out by the king of the Ascalonians, they took to their ships, leaving behind their homeland, and founded the city of Tyre a year before the fall of Troy." Although Lautrec’s artwork presents an extreme departure from the classical style, his familiarity with the stories can be seen in his body of work, including his portrayals of Mademoiselle Cocyle as Helen of Troy in La Belle Helene.

The last page takes a moralistic slant on classical figures in a passage entitled "On Flatterers," in part: "Flatterers think that they can seek the favor of kings to the extent that they imitate them, but it often happens that they reproduce their vices rather than their virtues, as one or another example will sufficiently demonstrate to be true. It is said that Alexander’s head was bent down toward his shoulder, and his friends were in the habit of also going around with their heads bent down toward their shoulders. When Plato first came to Syracuse, Dionysius the Tyrant immediately devoted himself entirely to geometry, from which it is easily understood that everyone consequently became a geometer, following the king’s example." Lautrec takes a strong stance against flattery in this passage, a principle he certainly held throughout his life—his paintings were decidedly unflattering and direct.

Interior pages in fine condition, with general wear, staining, and soiling to the covers. This is an incredibly fascinating notebook rife with content from the young Toulouse-Lautrec. It dates to what was arguably the most crucial period of his development, during the time that he broke his legs, permanently succumbing to dwarfism. While recuperating, he incessantly practiced drawing and painting. A truly magnificent and significant notebook. RR Auction COA.

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