Two artworks by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted when he was only about 16 are being auctioned by Christies in New York later this week, and together could fetch as much as $US450,000.
The first, Cheval de chasse à courre, is expected to fetch up to a quarter of a million dollars when it is sold on October 8. Toulouse-Lautrec was around 16 years old when he completed the work in 1880. An aristocratic upbringing, in which riding had been a principal pastime, contributed to his lifelong fascination with horses. This work is signed Monfa — short for his full family name, de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.
The piece has been in a private collection on the West Coast of the US since it was acquired at a Sotheby’s sale in New York in 2004. It has a pre-auction estimate of between $US180,000 and $US250,000.
Toulouse-Lautrec was a lifelong horseman, albeit only to a certain degree because of his congenital health conditions causing severe physical limitations. Unable to participate in various activities, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the arts; as a child, he could often be found drawing his father’s dogs and horses, or copying British prints of the same subjects. This interest was likely heightened by his first teacher, the deaf-mute artist René Princeteau, who was known for his fashionable sporting pictures. The artist’s fascination with horses endured throughout his career, with a particularly strong revival towards the end of his life, when his internment at the Neuilly clinic of Dr Sémalaigne allowed him to live near the Bois de Boulogne and Longchamp tracks.
Painted a year apart, in 1879 and 1880, the present work and its sister piece (Cavalier de chasse à courre ressanglant son cheval) exemplify Toulouse-Lautrec’s fascination for this subject. In the 1879 work, a horseman, dressed in black pants and a bright red overcoat, re-straps the saddle of his horse. The animal, his robe glistening, appears tense, its right hindleg is contracted and hovering above the ground, while its head is low, ears upright, clearly watchful and observant of his companion’s action. Behind them, the autumnal forest of poplars fades away in the artist’s broad brushstrokes, highlighting the focus on the close pair in the foreground. The protagonists in the 1880 painting appear to be the same as in 1879 — a rider with a bright red overcoat accompanied by his steed. However, the horseman is now bent over a body of water — maybe a pond or a stream — washing his hands or freshening up, while his horse stands calmly behind him, resting from the hunt.
Cavalier de chasse à courre ressanglant son cheval has a pre-auction estimate of between $UD150,000 and $US200,000. It was acquired by its present owner from a Sotheby’s sale in 2007.
Both pieces had been on extended loan at the San Diego Museum of Art from June 2018 to March of this year.