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.
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 Montmartre entertainers had picturesque and appealing names. La Goulue and Valentin le Désossé are the leading couple of cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge. Other local personalities were La Clownesse Cha-U-Kao or La Môme Fromage.
Lautrec was a keen participant in this bohemian life which he featured in advertisement posters for Le Moulin Rouge, Le Mirliton or Les Ambassadeurs. He made also portraits of these nearly destitute Ladies of the Parisian underworld.
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 68. 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.
Painted in the same year as an oil and essence on board 69 x 48 cm, La Goulue en Almée was sold for $ 1.6M by Christie's on November 11, 2021, lot 21C. It features the locally famous entertainer as an Egyptian dancer, painted in soft colors.
She is standing with a raised head topped by an exuberant bun. The face of the 29 year old woman is aged by the artist as a complacent observer the life in debauchery and addictions which he so enjoyed. In his posters he had spectacularly made ugly in the previous year the face of the 30 year old Yvette Guilbert.
La Goulue will soon give up the cabarets for becoming a lion tamer in her stands of the popular fêtes foraines. In 1904 she and her husband survived an attack by a puma.
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.
1895 La Goulue en Almée
2021 SOLD for $ 1.6M by Christie's
1898 Le Lit
2022 SOLD for $ 3.66M by Christie's
The artist featured his new muse in the nude or semi-nude in the intimacy of an apartment, without a male or female partner.
Le Lit was painted à l'essence with the usual rich palette of Lautrec in 1898 on panel 41 x 32 cm. Madame is reclining on the bed with her legs under the blanket in the foreground. Semi nude in her nightdress rolled up to expose the bare buttocks and thighs. A feeling of quietness is brought by a sleeping position on the cozy pillow while the eyes are open in daydream.
Le Lit was sold for $ 3.66M by Christie's on October 20, 2022, lot 41.
1899 Au Cirque
2023 SOLD for $ 2.7M by Christie's
Suffering from alcohol addiction, syphilis and depression, the artist is confined in an asylum in 1899 in Neuilly on commission from his mother.
For proving that his mental health is not damaged, he draws by memory a series of more than fifty sketches narrating the relationship of human and animal on a circus ring. 39 of them are posthumously edited as a book in 1905. The sympathy of the artist goes to the beast which makes a commendable effort to play its role while the human performer is flamboyant dressed and often cruel. Lautrec is released from the asylum after two months.
Au Cirque : Eléphant en Liberté stages an elephant standing on its hind legs on a small platform. Its tongue is hanging in the desperate effort. The performer brandishing the taming whip is dressed as a matador de toros.
This drawing in black and colored chalk on paper 35 x 25 cm was sold for $ 2.7M from a lower estimate of $ 400K by Christie's on May 11, 2023, lot 33A. It is signed and stamped with the monogram.