Louis Legrand

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The art of Louis Legrand offers an intimate depiction of the Belle Epoque Paris peopled by pleasure seeker and givers, with a special focus on the nightlife of Montmartre.

After studies with Felicien Rops and an apprenticeship as an illustrator for Parisian periodicals, Legrand gained instant celebrity in 1891, when his watercolors of music-hall dancers, reproduced in Gil Blas illustré, sold out a record 60,000 copies. These were published the following year as a suite of etchings, Cours de danse Fin-de-siècle. A series evoking Degas in its sympathetic rendering of ballet dancers, Les Petits du Ballet, was published in 1893 by Gustave Pellet. This was the beginning of a long collaboration, resulting in some 300 works, between the artist and the celebrated publisher of many of Lautrec's finest prints, as well as those of Redon, Rops, Signac, etc.

Many of Legrand's prints show women, usually occupied, though sometimes languorously so, rehearsing or waiting to go on state, performing their toilette in private or in view of an admirer; in the cafes or bars adjusting their hats and wraps while male companions stand by. They eat and drink, they smoke in public. In more domestic surroundings, they play with their pets and children. In those surroundings least domestic, they encourage clients to take their pleasure and pay for it.

We are familiar with these scenes of Parisian nightlife through the work of Lautrec and other well-known artists. But it is important to note that Legrand preceded Lautrec and others in publishing works portraying the cancan dancers and the demi-mondaines of Montmartre. Although he achieved wide recognition during the most productive part of his career, before the First World War, changing tastes and the long period of inactivity before his death in 1951 combined to obscure his achievements. Only in the context of our rediscovery and renewed appreciation of turn-of-the-century art have we come to realize the splendid contributions of this artist.

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