Louis Auguste Legrand
The art of Louis Legrand offers an intimate depiction of Belle Epoque Paris peopled by pleasure seekers and givers, with a special focus on the nightlife of Montmartre.
After studying 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 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 this celebrated publisher.
Many of Legrand's prints show women rehearsing or waiting to go on stage, performing their toilette in private or in view of an admirer, or 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 settings, they play with their pets and children. In less domestic arenas, 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.