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.
SOLD for $ 12.5M including premium