The Picnic [Le Pique-Nique] was probably suggested to Henri Toulouse-Lautrec by a production at the Theatre des Funanmbules, Paris. The subject is the clown Pierrot, with whom Lautrec identified as a man who does not get the true affection of the woman he loves.  As benefits the artist, Lautrec’s Pierrot has the comfort of sharing his picnic with an admirer, sea change for Pierrot, and a dream fulfilled for Lautrec.

Auguste Bouquet. Le Repas de Pierrot [Pierrot's Repast] (1834), lithography. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3341192&partId=1&searchText=auguste+bouquet+&page=1; also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:J.-G._Deburau_as_Pierrot_Gourmand.jpg; Harvard Theatre Collection

Auguste Bouquet. Pierrot’s Repast [Le Repas de Pierrot] (1834)

Lautrec’s resource for Pierrot is probably an adaptation of Auguste Bouquet’s Le Repas de Pierrot (1834), a more tradition rendering of a sad-sack Pierrot drunken, mournful, and  waiting alone for someone who never appears. Whereas Bouquet’s setting is rustic, Lautrec’s is urban, and the Arc de Trumphe is plainly visible in the right background. The picnic foods are  similar: chicken, bread, and wine. Naming this scene Le Pique-Nique is rare because it is an outdoor meal, which was usually referred to as un partie de campagne, as in a lithograph of that name, completed a year earlier (1897). 

In Toulouse-Lautrec: His Complete Lithographs and Drypoints, Jean Adbémar, suggests that the work was commissioned as a poster for Adolphe Willette’s  magazine La Vache Enragée, a trendy (but short lived)  magazine that folded in 1897. 

Featured Image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The Picnic [Le Pique-Nique] 91898), lithograph on paper; http://bibliotheque-numerique.inha.fr/collection/9199-le-pique-nique/

See: Jean Adhémar. Toulouse-Lautrec: His Complete Lithographs and Drypoints (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1965); Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Partie de Campagne (1897), lithograph on paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.;