Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
1886-1887 La Blanchisseuse by Toulouse-Lautrec
2005 SOLD for $ 22.4M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
Toulouse-Lautrec follows his master when he sets up his workshop near Montmartre. The young provincial was overwhelmed by the social difference between his family and the humble and hard-working life of the popular classes. Cormon teaches him to look at people with sensitivity.
Lautrec soon went to the cabarets of Montmartre. The fashion is for the chansons réalistes in which innocent girls in later teen age are watched over by pimps to the delight of the bourgeois who come to debase themselves in this world of bad life, among thieves and rapins.
In the fashion for girls is the dyed red hair, with abundant buns. The best known example will be the prostitute Casque d'Or, a few years later. In 1885 Lautrec wrote to his mother that he painted the portrait of a woman whose hair was an absolute gold.
He makes several sketches of his new model. Although very young, she had previously posed for Alfred Stevens. Her name is Carmen. Her face is very recognizable with her upturned nose, square jawline, and the locks falling in front of her eyes.
Lautrec reuses these portraits to feature "la Rousse" in scenes typical of the Parisian lower life. La Blanchisseuse, oil on canvas 96 x 75 cm painted in 1886 or 1887, was sold for $ 22.4M including premium by Christie's on November 1, 2005, lot 17. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The theme is not innocent. Working in the heat, the young women are dressed in light blouses that they know how to take off to earn a little money. They have a reputation as prostitutes. Under the Second Empire, they were the main models of the erotic photographs banned by the morality police.
1889 Pierreuse by Lautrec
2020 SOLD for $ 9.1M including premium by Christie's
narrated post sale in 2020
Two allegorical works painted in 1889 deal with the extreme attitudes of these young adults, wisdom and bad life. The formats are similar but the technique is different. He recreates the atmosphere of the chansons réalistes of his friend Aristide Bruant, who makes his fortune by titillating the bourgeois in his cabaret Le Mirliton. Both artworks are signed HT Lautrec, hiding the aristocratic origin of the artist.
La Liseuse, peinture à l'essence on board 68 x 61 cm, was sold for £ 5.6M including premium by Sotheby's on June 22, 2011, lot 19. Hélène is studious, undisturbed in her reading.
Pierreuse, oil on canvas 72 x 48 cm, was sold for $ 9.1M including premium by Christie's on December 2, 2020 from a lower estimate of $ 3M, lot 37.
Carmen "la Rousse" looks at something off-screen, attentively, without paying attention to the strand of hair that runs down her cheek. The title gives the key : in the language of Montmartre, the pierreuse was the prostitute of the lowest rank who solicits while walking in the streets. This painting was originally owned by Bruant and much later by Sacha Guitry.
#AuctionUpdate 'Pierreuse', featuring one of #ToulouseLautrec's favorite models, the auburn-haired gamine, Carmen Gaumin. sold for USD 9,062,000, three times its low estimate, after an 8 minute bidding battle https://t.co/hqIazv277F pic.twitter.com/BWUStAce9c— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) December 2, 2020
1889 Lautrec's Neighbour
2011 SOLD 5.6 M£ including premium
The artist, 25 years old, had already developed his technique of painting à l'essence, which favors pastel colors while retaining the qualities of oil paint. The intimate portrait of Hélène is a good example.
The girl is at home, dressed in a night blouse. Seated at a table, she reads a book carefully, like a schoolgirl. The image is focused on the face and on the long light brown hair. In a great demonstration of the possibilities of post-Impressionism, the rest of the scene, less important, has little contrast.
Lautrec worked from photographs, which had the advantage of avoiding tedious sittings for the model and encouraged spontaneity.
This nice painting on board, 68 x 61 cm, estimated £ 5M is for sale by Sotheby's in London on June 22, lot 19.
1891 An Invitation to the Moulin Rouge
2014 SOLD for $ 390K including premium
Founded two years before, the famous Parisian cabaret wished to display its dynamism. The picture is perfect, with the tall serious guy in the foreground, the cancan dancing girl on the ring and the tight and joyful crowd as backdrop silhouettes.
The actress is named in the title : she is La Goulue. The slumming bourgeois is a local celebrity of Montmartre known by the nickname Valentin le Désossé.
The poster was first edited in large size, 189 x 114 cm in three joined sheets. A highly rare copy of the first version is for sale at Sotheby's in New York on October 30, lot 175 estimated $ 325K.
This advertising image was an immediate success that called for a second version of the same format, also in three sheets. The drawing is unchanged, but an additional text is inserted in the lower part to announce masked balls twice a week.
A copy of that second state, also very rare, has been discussed previously in this column. It was sold for $ 300K including premium by Swann on December 17, 2008.
1891 La Goulue and Valentin le Désossé on Stage In New York
2008 SOLD 300 K$ including premium
The featured lot of the sale of Swann Galleries in New York on December 17 is at number 132 of the catalog.
It is an original example of the most famous and first Lautrec poster, made in 1891 for Moulin Rouge, the renowned Parisian cabaret. The cabaret makes dancing and concert every night, and masked ball on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Such pleasure houses are a tradition in Paris for several decades. There were a wide range of them, some were luxurious, others were dirty.
Toulouse-Lautrec, fan of Parisian life, used the poster as a technique to capture the stars of this underworld. The glory of Aristide Bruant survived until today, that of Yvette Guilbert is outdated and forgotten. Here, our poster introduces La Goulue, a dancer of French can-can. She is represented in dancing action, the right leg thrown to horizontal. We see in the foreground an enigmatic grayish character, stange mixing of serious and underground middleman, who used to be named Valentin le Désossé ("Boneless Valentine"). The artist has signed the poster with his monogram HTLautrec.
It was a large poster (about 2 x 1.2 m), in three sheets, found rarely as full as here and with all its text. This quality makes it estimated by Swann at 250 K $.
1892 Two Women and No Man
2015 SOLD for £ 10.8M including premium
Lautrec soon becomes a familiar of the brothels of Montmartre. He develops a specific technique of paint à l'essence that gives to oil painting a look similar as pastel. Living permanently with the girls, he received some commissions for the decoration of brothels.
The cripple artist is welcomed to such a point that he may attend the moments of rest and relaxation of the prostitutes. An observer of sensuality like Degas and Rodin, Lautrec is excited by the transgression of the bourgeois prohibition of the homosexuality. When they are not working, the girls in his brothels live their intimacy between them, without a man.
On February 3 in London, Sotheby's sells Au Lit : Le Baiser, an intimate scene where the viewer cannot dispute that the artist did not disturb the women in their erotic action. The sensuality emanating from this picture is strengthened by the fact that they are not naked.
This peinture à l'essence on panel 39 x 58 cm painted in 1892 is estimated £ 9M, lot 18.
Within the theme of lesbian intimacy by Lautrec, it anticipates L'Abandon (Le Repos), painted in 1895, sold for £ 6.2 million including premium by Christie's on 4 February 2009, and also the portfolio Elles printed in 1896.
1892 Slightly More than a Chat on the Pillow
2015 SOLD for $ 12.5M including premium
The maisons closes are on the decline. The holders rely for their business on a fragile and ephemeral respectability compared with the street walkers, young provincial girls who transmit their diseases in an uncontrolled freedom and who are named the insoumises by their customers.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec appreciates that his infirmities prevent him from starting a family. His dwarfism which had been aggravated by an accident to the legs could indeed be hereditary.
In 1892, the madam of the rue d'Amboise takes some interest in the small man who is different from the other customers and whose artistic skill is already recognized. She commissions him with small portraits of her residents. Lautrec quietly observes them in their daily occupations.
These women who spend their professional time with men are homosexual, as their fellow women who run other exposed jobs like in circus, cabaret or music hall. In their time off, far away from the money of the males, they find together the only intimacy of their lives.
The artist takes advantage of his whereabouts in the maison of the rue d'Amboise for capturing scenes of female couples in bed which he realizes in paintings on boards according to his own technique à l'essence that imitates the pastel.
One of these paintings, quite hot although the women are not naked but in their underwear, 39 x 58 cm, was sold for £ 10.8 million including premium by Sotheby's on February 3, 2015.
A more tender scene also painted in 1892, 46 x 59 cm, is estimated $ 10M for sale by Christie's in New York on November 9, lot 16A. The two young brunettes, with their bodies comfortably laying within the linen, are closely embracing and make a sustained kiss on their shared pillow.
1895 Mademoiselle Chahut-Chaos
2015 SOLD for $ 12M including premium
The clownesse Cha-U-Kao is one of his preferred characters. Like for the other women featured by the artist, we will not consider her as a sitter. Lautrec was a discrete witness of their life which he expressed with an incomparable spontaneity.
Cha-U-Kao is a contortionist who performs at the Moulin Rouge and the Nouveau Cirque. Like for many artists of the demimonde, we will not know her identity nor her past. She is not young and has the good taste not to exhibit herself any more in the nude. She is openly lesbian and such a female environment pleases Lautrec. In 1896, the series of prints Elles is designed by Lautrec around her intimate life.
In 1895, Toulouse-Lautrec executed several portraits of Cha-U-Kao in his signature technique of diluted oil which brings the delicacy of pastel hues. Lautrec is a follower of Degas excepted that the cabaret superseded the Opéra.
On November 4 in New York, Sotheby's sells one of these portraits à l'essence on board, 81 x 60 cm, lot 68T estimated $ 12M. The entertainer is standing thoughtfully, probably concentrated before performing. She does not appreciate that the artist is watching her and she does not hide her opulent curves.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
1895 The Friend Women of Toulouse-Lautrec
2009 SOLD 6.2 M£ including premium
First by its technique. An important artist optimizes the chemistry of his painting based on what he wants to show. In 1895, only 31 years old, Toulouse-Lautrec uses a peinture à l'essence (in French in Christie's catalog), reducing the proportion of oil to provide his paintings with the pastel flavour that fits so well in his intimate paintings.
Then the theme is a scene in a well known brothel (one which the artist frequented most often), so it is one of those images that have done more for his reputation, for paintings and for prints.
Then, the scene. We see two girls side by side, in light shirts. One of them is lying, eyes half closed. The other is leaning on her elbow, the eyes directed toward her colleague. Complicity or homosexuality? Both interpretations are possible, and this clearly reinforces the interest of the painting. They are alone, no customer being awaited. Alone? No no, it is sure that this peeping tom of painter is here also, to record the scene. It is the second mystery of the scene.
Finally, provenance: it belonged to Max Liebermann.
This work of 46 x 68 cm sold $ 8.5 million before charge at Sotheby's in 2000. It comes back on February 4 at Christie's in London, with an estimate of £ 5M. It is known under two titles: "L'Abandon", and "Les Deux Amies". The market favours increasingly such delicately expressive works. I am willing to bet that its price will exceed the price obtained nine years ago.
1896 Daily Life of Women in Montmartre
2020 SOLD for $ 625K including premium
In 1896, the series Elles is edited in 100 copies by Gustave Pellet, specialist of erotic prints including those by Félicien Rops. This portfolio consists in twelve lithographs 52 x 40 cm including a cover page and a frontispiece.
The project was certainly prepared in a hurry : the disparity in tone is due to the fact that some originals were oil paintings while the others were drawings.
These women are featured in their most quiet activities such as washing, combing, bathing, dressing, resting and sleeping, with no allusion to their occupation as prostitutes or actresses.
The artist was inspired by the Japanese prints and by Degas's backstage. One only of these women is identifiable : the cancan dancer Cha-U-Kao. She was openly lesbian and her dominating image confirms that the Elles series was intended to represent feminity or feminism instead of sexual life. The threat of syphilis was perhaps beginning to change the behavior of the artist.
The edition of the portfolio was a commercial failure, possibly due to the tonal disparity, and most of the prints were sold individually. Complete sets are very rare. One of them passed at Sotheby's on November 5, 2014, lot 121. and is estimated $ 600K for sale by Sotheby's in New York on October 28, 2020, lot 131.