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GIDE, André, et Maurice Denis

Le Voyage d’Urien

Paris, Librairie de l’Art indépendant, 1893





4to (200 x 191mm)
LIMITATION at 300 copies on holland, this one numbered 21 in pen
ILLUSTRATION : 30 original lithographs by Maurice Denis, printed in two colors including 7 in large format and one wood engraving printed in black for the wrapper


À M. de Toulouse-Lautrec
en bonne sympathie
Maurice Denis
et André Gide

[To Mr. de Toulouse-Lautrec
in true fondness
Maurice Denis
and André Gide]

AS ISSUED. Wrapper folded and stuck
PROVENANCE : Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (inscription) -- Patrick Le Lay -- Paris, November 22, 2021, lot 75

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis and the Nabis

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Denis frequented the same painters, the same literary circles around La Revue blanche and walked the same streets of the north of Paris. However, until the rediscovery of this copy, we had very few direct traces of their relationship. Only one letter from Toulouse-Lautrec to Maurice Denis, preserved at the departmental archives of the Yvelines region, is known today. It exactly meets the inscription of this copy :

“Thank you for your pretty, or rather beautiful book which is one of the most complete ornaments of art that have been produced for a long time. It is pointless to give you a compliment, you know all the good I think of you and I thank you for appreciating the appreciation of a savage like me. Please also kindly give my thanks to your collaborator Gide whose address I have been unable to get. Very truly yours. T.-Lautrec” (classification 166J 67 [Ms 13344]).

Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Denis met at least on painters’ canvasses and sketchbooks : Pierre Bonnard drew them passing each other in front of the Moulin Rouge (drawing preserved at the Musée d’Orsay, in a Bonnard album, classification no. RF 52756, 1, cf. infra) and Maurice Denis owned a portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec, “in soft felt” (1898), painted by Édouard Vuillard in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, at Misia and Thadée Natanson’s. This portrait is today preserved at the Musée d’Albi (cf. infra).

The relationship between the Nabis and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was very friendly. They all had the same taste for the streets, fashion and show halls at the turn of the century. The Avant-garde was no longer limited only to the Latin Quarter, it had conquered the boulevards, taken refuge in Montmartre, and faced the vast spectacle of the world.

Painters opened up to other techniques and materials than easel painting. Craftsmanship invited itself into art. The Nabis and Toulouse-Lautrec, admirers of Japanese prints, learned about lithography and wood engraving. These two techniques disdained by the Impressionists, had experienced a golden age between 1880 and 1900 :

“it may be there that the Nabis had created the most new forms, modified the most the vision and the profession, expressed their message the best. All of their lithographs only have one equivalent of the time, the work of Toulouse-Lautrec. Even more than painting, engraving of our time is dependent on the Nabis” (Bernard Dorival).

The poster, an ephemeral image offered to all, plastered in the streets, the cafés and show halls, constitutes the emblematic medium of the Nabis and Toulouse-Lautrec. The book was also enhanced with engravings of painters. Maurice Denis did more than illustrate Le Voyage d’Urien, since the images have as much place on the page as the text by Gide. Félix Vallotton had practically abandoned painting for ten years. For the Livre des Masques by Remy de Gourmont, he undertook several portraits, real or imagined, in wood engraving. Toulouse-Lautrec illustrated Jules Renard’s Histoire naturelles (1899) with twenty-two lithographs.

Around La Revue blanche

Painters and writers would also pass each other around La Revue blanche, founded by the brothers Thadée and Alexandre Natanson in 1889 in Brussels, and relocated to Paris in 1891. The entire team of the Revue blanche marched through the salon of the Natansons, at n° 9 rue Saint-Florentin. Thadée collected Avant-garde paintings and also assured their promotion through articles and exhibitions at the magazine’s headquarters. Maurice Denis, Toulouse-Lautrec and André Gide also collaborated. In 1893, the year Voyage d’Urien was published, Toulouse-Lautrec began working diligently for the magazine and became a close friend of the Natansons. From 1896 to 1899, he spent three successive summers with them in their house at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, where Vuillard painted him. One of the most famous covers of La Revue blanche shows Misia Natanson by Toulouse-Lautrec. Maurice Denis also gave several lithographs to La Revue blanche which were published at the same time as those of Toulouse-Lautrec, for example in the issues of October 1893 or of 1895. André Gide published a fragment of Paludes in La Revue blanche in January 1895 and in 1900, took over from Léon Blum as director of literary criticism.

If Toulouse-Lautrec preferred brothels and Maurice Denis churches, they belonged to the same artistic momentum of the same era. They recognized their reciprocal talent, as Toulouse-Lautrec recalls in the letter he wrote to Maurice Denis at the reception of this copy : “you know all the good that I think of you”, qualifying himself as “savage” in passing, in opposition to the wise Maurice Denis.

This copy of Voyage d’Urien combines a double rarity : that of an inscription by a painter to a painter - a sort of inscription rare in itself and inexistant on this book ; this inscription is all the more remarkable in that it is Toulouse-Lautrec’s. Moreover, Toulouse-Lautrec’s library has disappeared into the vagaries of his eventful life, and we don’t know of books having belonged to him. This double signed copy of Voyage d’Urien constitutes a unique and remarkable material trace of a book reflecting the richness and originality of an era.

BIBLIOGRAPHY : Bernard Dorival, Agnès Humbert, Catalogue de l'exposition Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis, 1888-1903, Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, 8 juin au 2 octobre 1955 -- André Gide-Maurice Denis, Correspondance 1892-1945, Paris, 2006 – Anne-Marie Christin, “Un livre double : Le Voyage d'Urien par André Gide et Maurice Denis (1893)”, in revue Romantisme, 1984, n°43 -- Œuvres complètes d’André Gide, I, Paris, 2009, p. 1970 et suiv. -- Frank Lestringant, André Gide l’inquiéteur, Paris, 2013, p. 212 et suiv. -- catalogue de l’exposition Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis, 1888-1903, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, 1 janvier 1955, p. 38

WEBOGRAPHY : dessin de Pierre Bonnard représentant Toulouse-Lautrec et Maurice Denis : :/53355/cl020512901 -- Édouard Vuillard, portrait de Toulouse-Lautrec “au feutre mou” :