Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | The box with the golden mask [La loge au mascaron doré]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

The box with the golden mask [La loge au mascaron doré] 1893 planographic , brush, crayon and spatter lithograph with scraper, printed in five colours on wove paper
37.0 (h) x 32.0 (w) cm
18/100 , first state of two , edition of 100
signed upper right, printed from the stone in black ink, 'HTL' monogram not dated
Reference: Wittrock P16 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra NGA 2010.348 The Poynton Bequest 2010

A skilful and sophisticated construction of space within the composition, The box with the golden mask [La loge au mascaron doré] sets this colour lithograph as one of Lautrec’s most admired. From a deliberately low vantage point the viewer is placed to look upwards towards two characters, a male and a female, sitting high up in a decorated box at the theatre. The artist’s use of several arabesques – the top and bottom of the box, the parting of the curtains and the decorative column to the left side of the composition – dramatically multiply the lines of sight within the image. This scene is about spectacle – the female spectator’s aided vision of the stage with opera glasses contrasts with her male companion who has his eyes shut. Even our view is inextricably bound up in the composition as we are lead to look in every direction by Lautrec’s decorative lines, but denied access to the on-stage action. Thus The box with the golden mask is both a highly complicated construct of the notion of sight and a humorous play on the concept of who is watching, and who is being watched.

Lautrec extends this humour with the juxtaposition of the woman’s face, red hair, black feathered hat and evening dress, with the hideously decorated golden mask adorning the front of the box. The viewer alone witnesses this parody. Whilst Lautrec is obviously poking fun at women’s fashion, depicting it as rather frivolous, he is more subtly making a statement about the artificiality of fin-de-siècle social norms, accepted behaviour and etiquette. He is pointing out that, just like the golden mask, such public pretences are merely a mask of one’s true character. In fact, the real characters in this scene have been identified as the artist Charles Conder and dancer Jane Avril – both of whom are used by Lautrec more generally as models for his representation of theatre-going ‘types’.

The work of two older and much admired artists set the precedent for Lautrec’s choice of subject matter and his particular handling of it. Edgar Degas’ 1880 pastel La loge depicts a female spectator, viewed from below, and similarly seated in a decorated theatre box. Lautrec’s composition is so similar in structure that there can be no doubt the younger artist has taken his cue from the master. However, Lautrec pushes his subject further, drawing inspiration from the caricaturist Honoré Daumier, who delighted in lampooning Parisian theatregoers, depicting them variously and expressively chatting, arguing, in ridiculous rapture or asleep during the performance. Following Daumier’s example Lautrec has chosen to organise The box with the golden mask as a play of parody in itself.

The box with the golden mask was commissioned by André Antoine for the cover of the theatre program for the play Le Missionaire, which opened on 24 April 1894.

JB

A skilful and sophisticated construction of space within the composition, The box with the golden mask [La loge au mascaron doré] sets this colour lithograph as one of Lautrec’s most admired. From a deliberately low vantage point the viewer is placed to look upwards towards two characters, a male and a female, sitting high up in a decorated box at the theatre. The artist’s use of several arabesques – the top and bottom of the box, the parting of the curtains and the decorative column to the left side of the composition – dramatically multiply the lines of sight within the image. This scene is about spectacle – the female spectator’s aided vision of the stage with opera glasses contrasts with her male companion who has his eyes shut. Even our view is inextricably bound up in the composition as we are lead to look in every direction by Lautrec’s decorative lines, but denied access to the on-stage action. Thus The box with the golden mask is both a highly complicated construct of the notion of sight and a humorous play on the concept of who is watching, and who is being watched.

Lautrec extends this humour with the juxtaposition of the woman’s face, red hair, black feathered hat and evening dress, with the hideously decorated golden mask adorning the front of the box. The viewer alone witnesses this parody. Whilst Lautrec is obviously poking fun at women’s fashion, depicting it as rather frivolous, he is more subtly making a statement about the artificiality of fin-de-siècle social norms, accepted behaviour and etiquette. He is pointing out that, just like the golden mask, such public pretences are merely a mask of one’s true character. In fact, the real characters in this scene have been identified as the artist Charles Conder and dancer Jane Avril – both of whom are used by Lautrec more generally as models for his representation of theatre-going ‘types’.

The work of two older and much admired artists set the precedent for Lautrec’s choice of subject matter and his particular handling of it. Edgar Degas’ 1880 pastel La loge depicts a female spectator, viewed from below, and similarly seated in a decorated theatre box. Lautrec’s composition is so similar in structure that there can be no doubt the younger artist has taken his cue from the master. However, Lautrec pushes his subject further, drawing inspiration from the caricaturist Honoré Daumier, who delighted in lampooning Parisian theatregoers, depicting them variously and expressively chatting, arguing, in ridiculous rapture or asleep during the performance. Following Daumier’s example Lautrec has chosen to organise The box with the golden mask as a play of parody in itself.

The box with the golden mask was commissioned by André Antoine for the cover of the theatre program for the play Le Missionaire, which opened on 24 April 1894.

JB

A skilful and sophisticated construction of space within the composition, The box with the golden mask [La loge au mascaron doré] sets this colour lithograph as one of Lautrec’s most admired. From a deliberately low vantage point the viewer is placed to look upwards towards two characters, a male and a female, sitting high up in a decorated box at the theatre. The artist’s use of several arabesques – the top and bottom of the box, the parting of the curtains and the decorative column to the left side of the composition – dramatically multiply the lines of sight within the image. This scene is about spectacle – the female spectator’s aided vision of the stage with opera glasses contrasts with her male companion who has his eyes shut. Even our view is inextricably bound up in the composition as we are lead to look in every direction by Lautrec’s decorative lines, but denied access to the on-stage action. Thus The box with the golden mask is both a highly complicated construct of the notion of sight and a humorous play on the concept of who is watching, and who is being watched.

Lautrec extends this humour with the juxtaposition of the woman’s face, red hair, black feathered hat and evening dress, with the hideously decorated golden mask adorning the front of the box. The viewer alone witnesses this parody. Whilst Lautrec is obviously poking fun at women’s fashion, depicting it as rather frivolous, he is more subtly making a statement about the artificiality of fin-de-siècle social norms, accepted behaviour and etiquette. He is pointing out that, just like the golden mask, such public pretences are merely a mask of one’s true character. In fact, the real characters in this scene have been identified as the artist Charles Conder and dancer Jane Avril – both of whom are used by Lautrec more generally as models for his representation of theatre-going ‘types’.

The work of two older and much admired artists set the precedent for Lautrec’s choice of subject matter and his particular handling of it. Edgar Degas’ 1880 pastel La loge depicts a female spectator, viewed from below, and similarly seated in a decorated theatre box. Lautrec’s composition is so similar in structure that there can be no doubt the younger artist has taken his cue from the master. However, Lautrec pushes his subject further, drawing inspiration from the caricaturist Honoré Daumier, who delighted in lampooning Parisian theatregoers, depicting them variously and expressively chatting, arguing, in ridiculous rapture or asleep during the performance. Following Daumier’s example Lautrec has chosen to organise The box with the golden mask as a play of parody in itself.

The box with the golden mask was commissioned by André Antoine for the cover of the theatre program for the play Le Missionaire, which opened on 24 April 1894.

JB



Image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue entering the Moulin Rouge [La Goulue entrant au Moulin Rouge] 1892
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Mrs David M. Levy