Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Seated woman [Femme assise]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Seated woman [Femme assise] 1893 oil on cardboard on cardboard
57.0 (h) x 44.0 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.491 Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi Gift Countess A. de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1922

Seated woman [Femme assise]is painted on cardboard, a support that was a particular favourite of Lautrec’s from the late 1880s, and one that he adopted from the work of the much admired Edgar Degas. In Lautrec’s work the use of cardboard is not indicative of preparatory or ‘study’ status, but was a deliberate choice of the artist. Cardboard provided a pre-existing colour that not only functioned to amplify the intensity of Lautrec’s oil paint, which he often thinned with turpentine, but also to hold colour on the surface rather than soaking into the support, as with the more conventional canvas.

Theidentity of the prostitute depicted in Seated woman is not known. Her intense, direct gaze is not one of exaggerated and brazen confidence, as in Edouard Manet’s Nana 1877, or indeed his notorious Olympia 1863.[1] The difference between Manet’s depiction of the gaze of the prostitute and that captured in Lautrec’s composition is interesting for its insight into the complex social history of prostitution in nineteenth-century Paris. Whereas Manet’s and Lautrec’s prostitutes engage the viewer with direct eye contact, the sprightly poise and optimism shown by Nana is in startling contrast to the atmosphere established by the gaze of Seated woman. Lautrec’s prostitute is visibly older than Manet’s subjects, as indicated by the shadows under her eyes, the marks about her neck and the slight forward slump of her head and torso, as if she is physically encumbered by the harsh reality of her profession. Her stare is not one of nubile confidence, but of ageing and knowing weariness. Not even the slippage of her robe and partial exposure of her right breast can be read as an erotic trick. It is here, in a comparison of the master painters of ‘everyday life’, that we recognise the glaring discrepancy in status between Manet’s wealthier courtesans – the socially mobile femmes de galante – and the regulated and downtrodden lives of Lautrec’s women
of misfortune.

The energetic attention that the artist has paid to the background of the portrait enlivens the scene with an energy that cannot be found in the face of the sitter herself. This divergence between background and subject adds dramatically to the sombre tone of the composition. Lautrec is unique in his sophisticated and subtle handling of the true grit of life. Once again, the consummate construction of his image is on display: from the bare bones of his graphite sketch in the lower half of the image Lautrec builds complexity with the addition of oil paint that peaks in a detailed delineation of the facial features of the sitter. Both colour and line are used to create a compositional vortex that directs attention to the lacklustre gaze.

JB

 

[1]Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Seated woman [Femme assise]is painted on cardboard, a support that was a particular favourite of Lautrec’s from the late 1880s, and one that he adopted from the work of the much admired Edgar Degas. In Lautrec’s work the use of cardboard is not indicative of preparatory or ‘study’ status, but was a deliberate choice of the artist. Cardboard provided a pre-existing colour that not only functioned to amplify the intensity of Lautrec’s oil paint, which he often thinned with turpentine, but also to hold colour on the surface rather than soaking into the support, as with the more conventional canvas.

Theidentity of the prostitute depicted in Seated woman is not known. Her intense, direct gaze is not one of exaggerated and brazen confidence, as in Edouard Manet’s Nana 1877, or indeed his notorious Olympia 1863.[1] The difference between Manet’s depiction of the gaze of the prostitute and that captured in Lautrec’s composition is interesting for its insight into the complex social history of prostitution in nineteenth-century Paris. Whereas Manet’s and Lautrec’s prostitutes engage the viewer with direct eye contact, the sprightly poise and optimism shown by Nana is in startling contrast to the atmosphere established by the gaze of Seated woman. Lautrec’s prostitute is visibly older than Manet’s subjects, as indicated by the shadows under her eyes, the marks about her neck and the slight forward slump of her head and torso, as if she is physically encumbered by the harsh reality of her profession. Her stare is not one of nubile confidence, but of ageing and knowing weariness. Not even the slippage of her robe and partial exposure of her right breast can be read as an erotic trick. It is here, in a comparison of the master painters of ‘everyday life’, that we recognise the glaring discrepancy in status between Manet’s wealthier courtesans – the socially mobile femmes de galante – and the regulated and downtrodden lives of Lautrec’s women
of misfortune.

The energetic attention that the artist has paid to the background of the portrait enlivens the scene with an energy that cannot be found in the face of the sitter herself. This divergence between background and subject adds dramatically to the sombre tone of the composition. Lautrec is unique in his sophisticated and subtle handling of the true grit of life. Once again, the consummate construction of his image is on display: from the bare bones of his graphite sketch in the lower half of the image Lautrec builds complexity with the addition of oil paint that peaks in a detailed delineation of the facial features of the sitter. Both colour and line are used to create a compositional vortex that directs attention to the lacklustre gaze.

JB

 

[1]Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Seated woman [Femme assise]is painted on cardboard, a support that was a particular favourite of Lautrec’s from the late 1880s, and one that he adopted from the work of the much admired Edgar Degas. In Lautrec’s work the use of cardboard is not indicative of preparatory or ‘study’ status, but was a deliberate choice of the artist. Cardboard provided a pre-existing colour that not only functioned to amplify the intensity of Lautrec’s oil paint, which he often thinned with turpentine, but also to hold colour on the surface rather than soaking into the support, as with the more conventional canvas.

Theidentity of the prostitute depicted in Seated woman is not known. Her intense, direct gaze is not one of exaggerated and brazen confidence, as in Edouard Manet’s Nana 1877, or indeed his notorious Olympia 1863.[1] The difference between Manet’s depiction of the gaze of the prostitute and that captured in Lautrec’s composition is interesting for its insight into the complex social history of prostitution in nineteenth-century Paris. Whereas Manet’s and Lautrec’s prostitutes engage the viewer with direct eye contact, the sprightly poise and optimism shown by Nana is in startling contrast to the atmosphere established by the gaze of Seated woman. Lautrec’s prostitute is visibly older than Manet’s subjects, as indicated by the shadows under her eyes, the marks about her neck and the slight forward slump of her head and torso, as if she is physically encumbered by the harsh reality of her profession. Her stare is not one of nubile confidence, but of ageing and knowing weariness. Not even the slippage of her robe and partial exposure of her right breast can be read as an erotic trick. It is here, in a comparison of the master painters of ‘everyday life’, that we recognise the glaring discrepancy in status between Manet’s wealthier courtesans – the socially mobile femmes de galante – and the regulated and downtrodden lives of Lautrec’s women
of misfortune.

The energetic attention that the artist has paid to the background of the portrait enlivens the scene with an energy that cannot be found in the face of the sitter herself. This divergence between background and subject adds dramatically to the sombre tone of the composition. Lautrec is unique in his sophisticated and subtle handling of the true grit of life. Once again, the consummate construction of his image is on display: from the bare bones of his graphite sketch in the lower half of the image Lautrec builds complexity with the addition of oil paint that peaks in a detailed delineation of the facial features of the sitter. Both colour and line are used to create a compositional vortex that directs attention to the lacklustre gaze.

JB

 

[1]Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.



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