Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
1886-1887 La Blanchisseuse
2005 SOLD for $ 22.4M by Christie's
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 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.
2020 SOLD for $ 9.1M by Christie's
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.
Pierreuse, oil on canvas 72 x 48 cm, was sold for $ 9.1M 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 La Liseuse
2011 SOLD for £ 5.6M by Sotheby's
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 painting à l'essence on board, 68 x 61 cm, was sold for £ 5.6M by Sotheby's on June 22, 2011, lot 19.
1891 Une Opération à l'Hôpital
2021 SOLD for € 880K by Artcurial
Such pictorial qualities highlight also a very rare surgical scene also executed in 1891, titled Une Opération par le Dr Péan à l'Hôpital International.
A surgery is in progress under the direction of Jules Péan, an eminent Parisian surgeon. He is seen standing from back side in his long black redingote. In the foreground a male nurse is busy with a patient on a stretcher. The boss is surrounded by his assistants. It is believed that Lautrec had been authorized to attend the surgery.
An identifiable figure makes an exception in the composition. The standing doctor just in front of Péan is recognizable by the detailed lines of his face. He is Dr Frédéric Baumgarten, a doctor and friend of the artist.
This à l'essence painting on cardboard 58 x 48 cm had been made by Lautrec for presentation to his doctor and remained up to now in the descendance of Baumgarten. It was only known by an exhibition in 1914. It was sold for € 880K by Artcurial on June 29, 2021, lot 17. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
#TOULOUSELAUTREC Le 29 juin prochain, Artcurial présentera aux enchères une très rare œuvre d’Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, intitulée Une opération par le Docteur Péan à l’Hôpital International (1891). Elle est estimée entre 600 000 et 900 000 €. #modernart -https://t.co/6iNQvm5jie pic.twitter.com/45XCpNeFZs— ARTCURIAL (@Artcurial) April 8, 2021
1892 Au Lit, le Baiser
2015 SOLD for £ 10.8M by Sotheby's
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec appreciates that his cripple prevents him from starting a family. His dwarfism which had been aggravated by an accident to the legs could indeed be hereditary.
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 brothel girls live their intimacy between them, without a man.
In 1892, the madam of the rue d'Amboise takes some interest in that small chap 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.
The artist takes advantage of his whereabouts in the maison of the rue d'Amboise for capturing scenes of female couples in bed in his own technique à l'essence that imitates the pastel.
On February 3, 2015, Sotheby's for £ 10.8M Au Lit : Le Baiser, peinture à l'essence on panel 39 x 58 cm made in 1892, lot 18.
The artist obviously did not disturb the erotic embrace. The sensuality emanating from this opus is strengthened by the fact that they are not naked.
2015 SOLD for $ 12.5M by Christie's
This picture is known with the same title as the example above, Au Lit : Le Baiser.
1893 Au Bal de l'Opéra
2007 SOLD for $ 10.1M by Christie's
Painted in 1893, Au Bal de l'Opéra features two groups separated by a balustrade at the top of the famous stairs of the Opéra de Paris. The social classes are not mixed : five comedians and friends are in the foreground, and an old dandy and his partner behind. A blurred crowd is dancing in the great hall.
The men keep their top hat in the fashion of the time, excepted one who is in his comedian's make up. A full bearded lustful face is the most detailed, with wide open eyes, ostensibly arched eyebrows and ambiguous smile. He has been identified as a frequent drinking companion of the artist. Another participant is the Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril. The other characters are also identified excepted a masked woman.
This oil, charcoal and gouache on joined paper laid down on panel 77 x 48 cm was sold for $ 10.1M from a lower estimate of $ 6M by Christie's on November 6, 2007, lot 35.
In 1894 Geffroy used this picture to illustrate an article on Le plaisir à Paris.
1895 La Clownesse Cha-U-Kao
2015 SOLD for $ 12M by Sotheby's
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, 2015, Sotheby's sold for $ 12M one of these portraits à l'essence on board, 81 x 60 cm, lot 68T. 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. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
2000 SOLD for $ 9.4M by Sotheby's
L'Abandon, also known as Les Deux Amies, is an oil on board 46 x 68 cm. It was sold for $ 9.4M by Sotheby's on May 10, 2000 and for £ 6.2M by Christie's on February 4, 2009, lot 18.
In this scene caught in a well known brothel which the artist frequented often, two girls are 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 ? They are alone, no customer being awaited. Alone? No no, we may imagine that the peeping painter is here also to record the scene.
2020 SOLD for $ 625K by Sotheby's
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. It was sold for $ 625K by the same auction house on October 28, 2020, lot 131.