Modified before a further sale on October 24, 2020
Toulouse-Lautrec was not disturbing the women of Montmartre : they were familiar to the continuous presence of the disabled and alcoholic artist in their brothels. He managed to draw and paint the details of their everyday lives.
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.
SOLD for $ 625K including premium