53. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Albi 1864 – 1901 Saint-André-du-Bois

Landscape with Dunes near Arcachon, c. 1883-1885

At first glance, one would not think of attributing this painting to Toulouse-Lautrec. Landscapes are rare in his oeuvre and, according to his life-long friend and biographer Maurice Joyant (1864–1930), in 1896 he displayed his disdain for the genre by exclaiming: “Only the human figure exists; landscape is, and should be, no more than an accessory: the painter of pure landscape is but a brute.”1 Nevertheless, around 1883-85, the artist painted a small group of landscape oil sketches on panel while vacationing at the Malromé family castle near Arcachon. Kept by the artist’s mother, they were passed on with the castle to Georges Séré de Rivières (1849–1930), a distant relative, whose collection stamp is visible at lower right. These sketches are executed with great technical freedom and have an unfinished, abstract quality, making clever use of the tonalities and textures of the unprimed wood. In this view, the wood panel occupies about two-thirds of the painting, evoking the ochre colour of the sand dunes. The sea in the distance is treated in minimal touches of green and white. Above, the blue sky gradually darkens. This deliberately sketchy appearance is a defining quality of the artist’s work, and is also present in his portraits and scenes of Parisian life.

1“Seule la figure existe, le paysage n’est et ne doit être qu’un accessoire : le peintre paysagiste pur n’est qu’une brute.”, Maurice Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, peintre, Paris, 1926, p. 192.