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Le Rire

Visiter la galerie des lithographies : intro - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - Histoires Naturelles - Le Rire


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The History of "Le Rire"

With more money and leisure time, the urban population reached out for intellectual and spiritual experiences. Now better educated, people acquired an appreciation of culture, art, and literature. As the posters for publications attest, there was a hunger for books, newspapers and magazines that brought the outside world to the reader as never before (publications such as Harper's, Lippincott's, Le Journal, Pan, Gil Blas, La Revue Blanche, and Le Rire)."

Le Rire," meaning "to laugh," was the most successful of all the "Journal Humoristique," published in France during the "Belle Epoque" (The last years of the 19th century). Published as an illustrated satirical weekly, from October 1894 to well into the 1950's. It was founded in Paris by Felix Juven in 1894. At the time corruption and incompetence ran rampant in the politics of the French government. There was anti-republican unrest directed on the infamous Dreyfus affair. It was also the gay nineties, a time of crowded cabarets and cafes flowing with the likes of Yvette Guibert and Polaire, to entertain the restless generation of the new found industrial age. A perfect time to poke fun at the political and social issues of the day.

It was the superb full colour drawings of the front and back covers and the centre spread, which made "Le Rire" outstanding. Printed as a small newspaper, black and white text and advertising appears on the reverse of each colour drawing. The great artists that flourished in Paris at the time were lined up to display their talents in "Le Rire" to an anxious public. It's most famous and important contributor was Toulouse-Lautrec, who did ten remarkable coloured drawings plus seven in black and white, during the first three years of publication (October 1894-October 1897). He introduces us to many of the celebrities of the day as well as social situations from the bedroom to the brothel. Creating some of the most beautiful and memorable drawings ever produced for the publication.

The most prolific of all artists for the various journals of Paris, including "Le Rire," was the great master Steinlen. Between 1883 and 1900 he produced close to 2000 illustrations for 50 journals. "The humanity of the street, the working class, the uneducated, the exploited, were the pervasive subject of Steinlen's art. His popular sympathies found an economical and popular means of communicating his social messages" (Color Revolution p. 8) He contributed over a dozen striking works to "Le Rire."

In 1898, the soon to be famous young Italian artist Leonetto Cappiello, decided to pay a visit to Paris. He found the city exciting, and wanted to stay, but had to find a way to support himself. He approached two famous compatriots, the actor Novelli and the composer Puccini, and asked them to let him sketch their caricatures. They obliged, and Cappiello submitted the drawings to the humour magazine "Le Rire." They were promptly accepted, and were so well received by the public that he became, virtually overnight, the favoured artist of the Paris Theatre. His dozens of drawings for "Le Rire," earned him great recognition and his first poster commission, from which he went on to become one of the most popular poster artist's of the 20th Century.

Other well known artists and many soon to be, contributed to "Le Rire," including Forain, Leandre, Metivet, Vallotton, Willette, Georges Meunier, Guillaume, and Bac to name a few. The works of these and other artists in "Le Rire," printed over 100 years ago, have become sought after by collectors, and are becoming increasingly difficult to find in good condition.



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Lautrec and Le Rire

Yvette Guilbert (10/11/1894) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"Of all the music hall performers who inspired Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert exerted by far the greatest hold over him. He was completely fascinated by the style and atmosphere of her act. Lautrec first saw her in about 1892, she had revolutionized the whole atmosphere of the cafe concert by a totally new approach to the performance of a song. Standing almost still except for gestures of her long thin arms in black gloves, which she almost invariably wore, her face almost expressionless except for the twist of her lips, she sang songs with highly scandalous words and themes. The Paris audience was captivating and none more than Lautrec. He found the whole atmosphere of her act and personality magnetic. Over the years they became well known to each other and she inspired some of his finest lithographs, drawings and paintings"

Miss May Milton (03/08/1895) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"There was nothing to hold the attention in her pale, almost clownlike face, but her agility, her purely English choreographic skill, acquired in the spectacular English pantomimes which abound in troupes of dancing girls, were at the time revolutionary...Jane Avril earnestly took upon herself the tutelage of May Milton. In spite of her support and Lautrec's poster (which was allegedly prepared for an American tour which never materialized) May Milton appeared at the Rue Fontaine for only one winter. Nothing is known of where she had been born or of what became of her. Her fame is entirely due to Lautrec"

Untitled (Alors...) (09/01/1895) - 23 cm x 31 cm

We can assume that the larger woman is a bordello madame questioning a bar girl or potential prostitute. She asks, "Are you a virtuous woman?" to which the other woman replies, "Yes Madame, but I have a boyfriend." Their personalities come through in Lautrec's exquisite rendering of the faces and the body language. The Madame stands relaxed with a knowing smile, in direct contrast to the pouting little woman looking uncomfortable in her hat and closed coat.

Snobisme (24/04/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

We find an elegant gentleman and escort, a prostitute or his mistress, seated at a table of a fashionable Paris restaurant. The meal is done, and as he studies the bill, he softly says to her, "Jeanne, take my wallet, without anyone spotting you, out of the left hand pocket of my overcoat." "And then?" she replies slyly, with a knowing smile. "Then give it to me as if it were yours." The inference is that he is protecting her reputation or more likely his own, from the watchful eye of the doorman of the establishment. An example of the snobbish hypocrisy that ran rampant in Paris at the time, which only Lautrec could capture with such rare insight and beauty.

Les Grands Concerts de l'Opera (08/02/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"Seated on the right, Ambroise Thomas at a performance of his opera 'Françoise de Rimini'. In the foreground is Misia's hat (Misia Natanson, the wife of one of the famous Natanson brothers). This drawing was executed in 1896, with the title Les Grands Concerts, for the review Le Rire, which was directed by a friend of Lautrec's, the art critic Arsene Alexandre. Lautrec often used topical subjects for illustration, but only when they interested him in themselves"

Au Moulin-Rouge, Entrée de Cha-U-Kao (08/02/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"Mounted on a mule and surrounded by guards Cha-U-Kao makes her festive entry into the great hall of the Moulin Rouge on the day of Mardi Gras, in February, 1896. In the gallery (behind her), a waiter is serving drinks. At the right of Cha-U-kao's head, Lautrec and Gabriel Tapie are shown admiring the scene, generally known by the name Redoute. This drawing was executed for the review Le Rire"

Baron dans le Charbonniers (30/01/1897) - 23 cm x 31 cm

An exceptional character study by Lautrec of the acclaimed comic M. Baron. The text reads, "The newspapers announces that Mr. Baron, famous comic is about to leave the Variety Theatre, where he has enjoyed a lasting success." Shown seated at a bar in the role of Secretary to the Commissioner. His darkened nose and weary eyes display the effects of too much drink, yet in his hat and high collar he remains poised. The study implies the pompous self-importance of the typical bureaucrat of the day, a subdued display of Lautrec's often scathing wit.

Polaire (23/02/1895) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"We hardly need to be told that Polaire was a striking presence on stage. She was Emilie Bouchard (1877-1939), originally from Algeria, who was from all accounts quite a character. Endowed by nature with a rather generous bust, she ignored the Victorian dress code which demanded that woman conceal their breasts as much as possible, and refused to wear the confining corsets, hence she tended to stand out conspicuously, and it is not beyond conjecture that this may have been at least partly responsible for her entry into show business as a cafe singer at the age of 15. To her credit, she made the most of the opportunity, and seized the first chance to perform in a stage production. There, she surprised everyone by revealing herself as a sensitive and intelligent comedienne, and within a year was playing soubrette leads in comedies"
Lautrec has absolutely captured the essence that is Polaire in this, one of his most magnificent, rendering for Le Rire.

Les Petits Levers (24/10/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

In this exquisite comical piece, entitled "Early Morning" Lautrec takes us into a bedroom, perhaps in one of his own well-frequented brothels, or to the apartment of some puritanical bureaucrat, he so loved to debase. We find a gentleman in bed, showing the effects of the previous nights frivolity, looking up at a woman, his mistress or a prostitute. Smiling she presents her bared breasts to him and asks, "What would you like for breakfast?" The implication is clear and the scene is Lautrec at his mischievous best.

Dans les Coulisses des Folies-Bergere (13/06/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

We see Mrs Lona Barrison with her manager and husband in the corridors of the Folies Bergere, executed for Le Rire. Mrs Barrison was an English equestrienne of considerable fame. Lautrec loved to focus his attention on horsemen or horsewomen as he considered them to be fellow artists.
The Folies Begere was not remembered for its horse riding acts. As Laura Gold explains, "When the most famous of Paris cabarets (The Folies Bergere) opened its doors in 1869, it presented variety programs including animal and circus acts, similar to American vaudevilles. It was not until later that its policy changed to concentrate on a line of showgirls presenting various dances in revealing costumes. This proved to be a far bigger attraction"

Chocolat dansant dans un bar (28/03/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

"The Irish and American Bar was described as an English bar where truly hardened drinkers would silently sit lost in contemplation of the bottles. The barman (seen standing to the left) Randolphe, was known as Ralph. A half-breed Chinese and American Indian born in San Francisco, he displayed Asiatic dexterity in mixing special cocktails. In the smoke and hubbub jockeys, trainers, grooms and horse dealers jostled with pompous coachmen whose employers would be dining at one of the smart restaurants nearby. The famous Negro clown called Chocolat (seen here dancing) was a devotee of this unpretentious smoky establishment. After his performance at the Nouveau Cirque, he would go there to quench his thirst with his partner (Footit). Occasionally Chocolat would dance... Lautrec was frequently the last client to leave the bar when closing-time came"

Skating (11/01/1896) - 23 cm x 31 cm

In this work by Lautrec simply titled "Skating" he gives us a look at the social, as well as the skating itself. From the gallery, a very distinguished monocled, gentleman in top hat, prepares his drink, as he surveys the scene. A blonde skater, with a striking profile and hat to match, holds the rail quite near to him. She seems to be looking past him. In the background we see a waiter move by with a full tray of drinks, as well a decked out lady skater clings to the rail while a man skates effortlessly by them all. A full array of elegant ladies and gentleman round out the gallery. Lautrec has effectively captured the movement, the atmosphere and romance of indoor ice-skating, a very popular pastime in Paris at the turn of the century

Aux Folies-Bergere, Brothers Marco (22/12/1895) - 23 cm x 31 cm

At the Folies Bergere, we have the Brothers Marco. A large incredible double-jointed clown stares down his little partner. An exceptional example of Lautrec's skill in rendering the human form in simple strong line. He adds only a slight hint of colour. He captures quite simply, the very essence of the performers during their act. One of his most striking submissions to "Le Rire."


Visiter la galerie des lithographies : intro - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - Histoires Naturelles - Le Rire

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