Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Redhead sitting in the garden of Monsieur Forest [Femme rousse assise dans le jardin de Monsieur Forest]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Redhead sitting in the garden of Monsieur Forest [Femme rousse assise dans le jardin de Monsieur Forest] [also known as: Woman seated in a garden; alternative titles: Thoughtful [Songeuse], The braid [La tresse]] 1890 oil on cardboard on cardboard
49.4 (h) x 31.3 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.366 The Trustees of The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham Purchased 1948

Lautrec has chosen to present a very unusual view of a seated figure, where the young woman is shown from behind with her face almost in profile. In this the artist has created a mirror image of another figure in a garden in his painting of the bassoonist Désiré Dihau of the same year.[1] In both works the figure is sitting on an identical balloon-backed chair.

The young woman’s facial features are barely perceptible. What is remarkable is her brilliantly coloured red hair, arranged in a thick plait swept up to form an elaborate shape. It is as much a portrayal of the hair as it is of the anonymous sitter – hence the painting has also been called The braid [La tresse].

The painting is a key example of a favourite Paris location for Lautrec. In contrast to the lively sometimes chaotic scenes of Montmatre and its night-life, the walled garden provides a quiet sanctuary. What is also unusual about this subject is Lautrec’s departure from painting figures within a garden to explore both interior and exterior space. His use of space is ambiguous; although the architectural detail of the wall suggests that the woman is seated outside by a bistro table.

Perhaps because of the ambiguous depiction of space and the surroundings that differ from so many of Lautrec’s figures in a garden, the title of the painting has been the subject of conjecture. The notes when the work was first acquired by the Barber Institute in 1948 have the title Thoughtful [Songeuse].[2] In 1952, in the Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and miniatures in the Barber Institute, this title was retained.[3] The catalogue raisonné by M.G. Dortu, Toulouse Lautrec et son oeuvre, published in 1971, has introduced a specific location with the principal title Redhead seated in the garden of Monsieur Forest [Femme rousse assise dans le jardin de Monsieur Forest],and additional titles Thoughtful [Songeuse] and The braid [La tresse].[4] More recently, in The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook published in 1999, Paul Spencer-Longhurst titled the work the less specific, Woman seated in a garden.[5] 

Aside from the spatial ambiguity there is a change in Lautrec’s palette, with less vivid colours and more atmospherics suggested by the form and brushwork. It appears that with this painting he is exploring different ways of depiction; just as at this time the Nabi artists, such as Lautrec’s friends Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, develop a more intimate subject matter and a more decorative style – an approach Lautrec was well aware of.

The growing reaction to the Realist movement, which witnessed the flowering of Symbolism, was also current. In 1892 for example, two years after this painting was made, the argument was put that: ‘The greatest error of the Realist school was to equate the human brain with a camera lens … The domain of fantasy is now wide open to artists.’[6] This may account for the somewhat wistful attitude of Lautrec’s figure looking away from the viewer – and may also account for the alternative title, Thoughtful.

JK

[1] Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi.

[2] According to Robert Wenley and staff at the Barber Institute, the title was based on correspondence between Thomas Bodkin, the Director of the Barber Institute, and the vendor, Arthur Tooth and Sons.

[3] Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1952, illus. p. 112.

[4]M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol. 2, P.366, p. 196. Collection Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, peintre à l’essence
on cardboard.

[5] Paul Spencer-Longhurst, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook, Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1999.

[6]G. de Saint-Heraye, L’Art et l’idée, November 1892, pp. 282–284, quoted in Ted Gott, ‘Symbolism’, and translated by the author, in Jane Kinsman, Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Paris in the late 19th century, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia. 1996, p. 116.

Lautrec has chosen to present a very unusual view of a seated figure, where the young woman is shown from behind with her face almost in profile. In this the artist has created a mirror image of another figure in a garden in his painting of the bassoonist Désiré Dihau of the same year.[1] In both works the figure is sitting on an identical balloon-backed chair.

The young woman’s facial features are barely perceptible. What is remarkable is her brilliantly coloured red hair, arranged in a thick plait swept up to form an elaborate shape. It is as much a portrayal of the hair as it is of the anonymous sitter – hence the painting has also been called The braid [La tresse].

The painting is a key example of a favourite Paris location for Lautrec. In contrast to the lively sometimes chaotic scenes of Montmatre and its night-life, the walled garden provides a quiet sanctuary. What is also unusual about this subject is Lautrec’s departure from painting figures within a garden to explore both interior and exterior space. His use of space is ambiguous; although the architectural detail of the wall suggests that the woman is seated outside by a bistro table.

Perhaps because of the ambiguous depiction of space and the surroundings that differ from so many of Lautrec’s figures in a garden, the title of the painting has been the subject of conjecture. The notes when the work was first acquired by the Barber Institute in 1948 have the title Thoughtful [Songeuse].[2] In 1952, in the Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and miniatures in the Barber Institute, this title was retained.[3] The catalogue raisonné by M.G. Dortu, Toulouse Lautrec et son oeuvre, published in 1971, has introduced a specific location with the principal title Redhead seated in the garden of Monsieur Forest [Femme rousse assise dans le jardin de Monsieur Forest],and additional titles Thoughtful [Songeuse] and The braid [La tresse].[4] More recently, in The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook published in 1999, Paul Spencer-Longhurst titled the work the less specific, Woman seated in a garden.[5] 

Aside from the spatial ambiguity there is a change in Lautrec’s palette, with less vivid colours and more atmospherics suggested by the form and brushwork. It appears that with this painting he is exploring different ways of depiction; just as at this time the Nabi artists, such as Lautrec’s friends Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, develop a more intimate subject matter and a more decorative style – an approach Lautrec was well aware of.

The growing reaction to the Realist movement, which witnessed the flowering of Symbolism, was also current. In 1892 for example, two years after this painting was made, the argument was put that: ‘The greatest error of the Realist school was to equate the human brain with a camera lens … The domain of fantasy is now wide open to artists.’[6] This may account for the somewhat wistful attitude of Lautrec’s figure looking away from the viewer – and may also account for the alternative title, Thoughtful.

JK

[1] Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi.

[2] According to Robert Wenley and staff at the Barber Institute, the title was based on correspondence between Thomas Bodkin, the Director of the Barber Institute, and the vendor, Arthur Tooth and Sons.

[3] Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1952, illus. p. 112.

[4]M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol. 2, P.366, p. 196. Collection Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, peintre à l’essence
on cardboard.

[5] Paul Spencer-Longhurst, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook, Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1999.

[6]G. de Saint-Heraye, L’Art et l’idée, November 1892, pp. 282–284, quoted in Ted Gott, ‘Symbolism’, and translated by the author, in Jane Kinsman, Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Paris in the late 19th century, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia. 1996, p. 116.

Lautrec has chosen to present a very unusual view of a seated figure, where the young woman is shown from behind with her face almost in profile. In this the artist has created a mirror image of another figure in a garden in his painting of the bassoonist Désiré Dihau of the same year.[1] In both works the figure is sitting on an identical balloon-backed chair.

The young woman’s facial features are barely perceptible. What is remarkable is her brilliantly coloured red hair, arranged in a thick plait swept up to form an elaborate shape. It is as much a portrayal of the hair as it is of the anonymous sitter – hence the painting has also been called The braid [La tresse].

The painting is a key example of a favourite Paris location for Lautrec. In contrast to the lively sometimes chaotic scenes of Montmatre and its night-life, the walled garden provides a quiet sanctuary. What is also unusual about this subject is Lautrec’s departure from painting figures within a garden to explore both interior and exterior space. His use of space is ambiguous; although the architectural detail of the wall suggests that the woman is seated outside by a bistro table.

Perhaps because of the ambiguous depiction of space and the surroundings that differ from so many of Lautrec’s figures in a garden, the title of the painting has been the subject of conjecture. The notes when the work was first acquired by the Barber Institute in 1948 have the title Thoughtful [Songeuse].[2] In 1952, in the Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and miniatures in the Barber Institute, this title was retained.[3] The catalogue raisonné by M.G. Dortu, Toulouse Lautrec et son oeuvre, published in 1971, has introduced a specific location with the principal title Redhead seated in the garden of Monsieur Forest [Femme rousse assise dans le jardin de Monsieur Forest],and additional titles Thoughtful [Songeuse] and The braid [La tresse].[4] More recently, in The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook published in 1999, Paul Spencer-Longhurst titled the work the less specific, Woman seated in a garden.[5] 

Aside from the spatial ambiguity there is a change in Lautrec’s palette, with less vivid colours and more atmospherics suggested by the form and brushwork. It appears that with this painting he is exploring different ways of depiction; just as at this time the Nabi artists, such as Lautrec’s friends Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, develop a more intimate subject matter and a more decorative style – an approach Lautrec was well aware of.

The growing reaction to the Realist movement, which witnessed the flowering of Symbolism, was also current. In 1892 for example, two years after this painting was made, the argument was put that: ‘The greatest error of the Realist school was to equate the human brain with a camera lens … The domain of fantasy is now wide open to artists.’[6] This may account for the somewhat wistful attitude of Lautrec’s figure looking away from the viewer – and may also account for the alternative title, Thoughtful.

JK

[1] Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi.

[2] According to Robert Wenley and staff at the Barber Institute, the title was based on correspondence between Thomas Bodkin, the Director of the Barber Institute, and the vendor, Arthur Tooth and Sons.

[3] Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1952, illus. p. 112.

[4]M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York: Paul Brame et C.M. de Hauke, Collectors Editions, 1971, vol. 2, P.366, p. 196. Collection Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, peintre à l’essence
on cardboard.

[5] Paul Spencer-Longhurst, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts handbook, Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1999.

[6]G. de Saint-Heraye, L’Art et l’idée, November 1892, pp. 282–284, quoted in Ted Gott, ‘Symbolism’, and translated by the author, in Jane Kinsman, Marc Bascou, Ted Gott et al., Paris in the late 19th century, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia. 1996, p. 116.




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