Friday, February 27, 2009

Arthur Zimmerman - the Bob Dylan of the vélodrome

An interchange yesterday with Karen at L’Affichiste about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec started me looking at various books and articles. Opening a copy of the Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne from 1901, a laid-in piece of paper fell out. I recognised it as a lithograph by Lautrec. It obviously did not belong in the Revue, though it was carefully placed beside an article on the artist by André Rivoire. It had four pinholes in the corners (one corner a bit eaten away as a result), and a couple of minor flaws where water has splashed on the paper. On the reverse is an ink instruction from the former owner, possibly to himself but more likely to a servant (or a wife?) to insert it in the Revue, where I found it. It is a print that has lived a little, but overall it’s a very nice thing.

Could it really be a genuine Lautrec lithograph? Or is it a reproduction of some kind? Looked at under a glass, it is certainly a lithograph – but even so… Some research was (and still is) needed. Luckily I possess the catalogue raisonné of Lautrec’s graphic works by Götz Adriani. This told me at once that my lithograph was not the first state of 1894, printed in black, of which only 3 impressions are known. Phew!

Then it tells of a second state, “The image transferred to a new stone with new lettering, not designed by Lautrec: ‘Zimmerman/ et sa machine’.”

So I did begin to get a little excited. Of this second state, printed in what is variously described as grey, olive green, or olive black on buff-coloured wove paper, Adriani tells us, “Size of edition not known”. It was printed in 1895 to accompany an article by Lautrec’s friend Tristan Bernard in La Revue Franco-Américaine. References are given; Delteil 145; Adhémar 83; Adriani 98; Wittrock 111. To which one can add Adriani 94, the number given in this 1988 catalogue.

In “Size of edition not known”, a whole can of worms is opened up. Adriani continues, “50,000 were announced as illustrations for the June 1895 edition of La Revue Franco-Américaine; the first 45 were printed on Japan paper.”

Which is all very well, but if 50,000 copies were printed, where are they? As my wife’s grandmother would have said: 50,000 copies, my fat foot.

I simply don’t believe this figure. No copy has come up for auction since 1996; only four copies have been offered at auction since 1990, which is as far back as I can look. No bookseller has a single copy of La Revue Franco-Américaine for sale. I have been able to find one copy of this lithograph for sale from an established dealer who specialises in Lautrec, and who estimates the edition size at 400 copies, dating it “before 1906”.

It’s a wonderful drawing, I think. Adriani quotes Lautrec’s friend Paul Leclercq on this print, which depicts the American superstar cyclist Arthur Zimmerman, leaning on his bicycle in his racing jersey: “Through this lively image I can see Lautrec, armed with his litho chalk, bending over the stone, and I can still hear him eulogizing on the benefits of sports training, with the short, vivid and trenchant expressions which he used to such effect.” Lautrec loved cycle racing, and often went to the races with Tristan Bernard, a writer who also managed the Vélodrome Buffalo and the Vélodrome de la Seine, and edited Le Journal des Vélocipédistes.

So I am still unsure about this print. I am 99% confident it is a genuine 1895 second state. But how rare is it? What’s its value? Is it worth paying a paper restorer to smooth out the couple of droplets-worth of damage? Do I keep it? Do I sell it?

Who knows?

Thanks to the digital magic of PK at Bibliodyssey, at least we can now see what it would look like with the splashes restored (though actually the tiny dark marks are either flecks in the paper or spatters of ink, so would have to stay!):

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