Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] 1897 oil on cardboard on cardboard
63.0 (h) x 48.0 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.652 Neue Pinakothek, Munich Donated in 1912 by Eduard Arnhold and Robert von Mendelssohn in the context of the Tschudi Contribution

As he grew older Lautrec increasingly suffered from ill health, and yet he often retained the very best qualities he had developed as an insightful portraitist. This is an intriguing oil painting on cardboard that reveals Lautrec’s facility to portray character as well as his skill as a draughtsman. In Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] he captures the gentle vulnerability of an unidentified, once beautiful woman whose life experience has hardened her features. A determined jaw contrasts with her faraway look, accentuated by the made-up but vacant eyes. Her disengagement from the viewer creates a worldly-wise expression on her face, adding complexity to this understated portrayal. Lautrec’s skill in understatement is enhanced by the minimal lines with which he suggests clothing and the sofa she lounges on.

The stunning patchwork of brushstrokes in white, blue and green, and the dazzling red of the woman’s coiffure, which frames her face and is swept up in a voluminous and unkempt chignon, contrasts with the emptiness of the remaining composition. This work reveals how radical Lautrec’s painting technique could become. As a student, having escaped from the academic, dark painting and rigid drawing techniques of Léon Bonnat’s atelier, Lautrec absorbed and adapted the lessons of the Impressionists in a purer, brighter colour palette and fragmented brushwork. He became enamoured with Edgar Degas’ technique of painting on cardboard, peinture à l’essence, where oil thinned with turpentine creates a more translucent look. Applied in sketchy brushwork, the linear effect is further enhanced on the cardboard surface. François Gauzi in his memoirs about his friend Lautrec observed that:

He painted with a large oval palette, which he never cleaned. He had composed it by reducing it to the minimum number of colours. He applied his tones, very much thinned with oil of turpentine, precisely, never scumbling.[1]

Lautrec’s free-ranging embrace and radical interpretation of this painting technique is evident in Woman seated on a sofa,and is instructive in terms of his great originality. The ‘disorderly’ nature of his painting appears to have initiated some concern, as Charles Angrand wrote to his fellow Pointillist artist, Paul Signac, on 2 April the following year:

But you seem to be concerned more about Lautrec, I appreciated very much some finds of unusual colours, which, naturally I should have wished to be more orderly.[2]

JK

[1] François Gauzi, My friend Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Paul Dinnage, London: Neville Spearman Ltd, 1957, p. 61.

[2]Charles Angrand, in François Lespinasse (ed.), Charles Angrand, correspondances, 1883–1926, Rouen F. Lespinasse, 1988, letter no. 519, [2 April 1898], p. 92, quoted by Anne Roquebert, in Claire Frèches-Thory, Anne Roquebert and Richard Thomson, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, Paris: South Bank Centre, Réunion des musées nationaux and the Musée d’Orsay, 1991,
p. 540.

As he grew older Lautrec increasingly suffered from ill health, and yet he often retained the very best qualities he had developed as an insightful portraitist. This is an intriguing oil painting on cardboard that reveals Lautrec’s facility to portray character as well as his skill as a draughtsman. In Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] he captures the gentle vulnerability of an unidentified, once beautiful woman whose life experience has hardened her features. A determined jaw contrasts with her faraway look, accentuated by the made-up but vacant eyes. Her disengagement from the viewer creates a worldly-wise expression on her face, adding complexity to this understated portrayal. Lautrec’s skill in understatement is enhanced by the minimal lines with which he suggests clothing and the sofa she lounges on.

The stunning patchwork of brushstrokes in white, blue and green, and the dazzling red of the woman’s coiffure, which frames her face and is swept up in a voluminous and unkempt chignon, contrasts with the emptiness of the remaining composition. This work reveals how radical Lautrec’s painting technique could become. As a student, having escaped from the academic, dark painting and rigid drawing techniques of Léon Bonnat’s atelier, Lautrec absorbed and adapted the lessons of the Impressionists in a purer, brighter colour palette and fragmented brushwork. He became enamoured with Edgar Degas’ technique of painting on cardboard, peinture à l’essence, where oil thinned with turpentine creates a more translucent look. Applied in sketchy brushwork, the linear effect is further enhanced on the cardboard surface. François Gauzi in his memoirs about his friend Lautrec observed that:

He painted with a large oval palette, which he never cleaned. He had composed it by reducing it to the minimum number of colours. He applied his tones, very much thinned with oil of turpentine, precisely, never scumbling.[1]

Lautrec’s free-ranging embrace and radical interpretation of this painting technique is evident in Woman seated on a sofa,and is instructive in terms of his great originality. The ‘disorderly’ nature of his painting appears to have initiated some concern, as Charles Angrand wrote to his fellow Pointillist artist, Paul Signac, on 2 April the following year:

But you seem to be concerned more about Lautrec, I appreciated very much some finds of unusual colours, which, naturally I should have wished to be more orderly.[2]

JK

[1] François Gauzi, My friend Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Paul Dinnage, London: Neville Spearman Ltd, 1957, p. 61.

[2]Charles Angrand, in François Lespinasse (ed.), Charles Angrand, correspondances, 1883–1926, Rouen F. Lespinasse, 1988, letter no. 519, [2 April 1898], p. 92, quoted by Anne Roquebert, in Claire Frèches-Thory, Anne Roquebert and Richard Thomson, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, Paris: South Bank Centre, Réunion des musées nationaux and the Musée d’Orsay, 1991,
p. 540.

As he grew older Lautrec increasingly suffered from ill health, and yet he often retained the very best qualities he had developed as an insightful portraitist. This is an intriguing oil painting on cardboard that reveals Lautrec’s facility to portray character as well as his skill as a draughtsman. In Woman seated on a sofa [Femme assise sur un divan] he captures the gentle vulnerability of an unidentified, once beautiful woman whose life experience has hardened her features. A determined jaw contrasts with her faraway look, accentuated by the made-up but vacant eyes. Her disengagement from the viewer creates a worldly-wise expression on her face, adding complexity to this understated portrayal. Lautrec’s skill in understatement is enhanced by the minimal lines with which he suggests clothing and the sofa she lounges on.

The stunning patchwork of brushstrokes in white, blue and green, and the dazzling red of the woman’s coiffure, which frames her face and is swept up in a voluminous and unkempt chignon, contrasts with the emptiness of the remaining composition. This work reveals how radical Lautrec’s painting technique could become. As a student, having escaped from the academic, dark painting and rigid drawing techniques of Léon Bonnat’s atelier, Lautrec absorbed and adapted the lessons of the Impressionists in a purer, brighter colour palette and fragmented brushwork. He became enamoured with Edgar Degas’ technique of painting on cardboard, peinture à l’essence, where oil thinned with turpentine creates a more translucent look. Applied in sketchy brushwork, the linear effect is further enhanced on the cardboard surface. François Gauzi in his memoirs about his friend Lautrec observed that:

He painted with a large oval palette, which he never cleaned. He had composed it by reducing it to the minimum number of colours. He applied his tones, very much thinned with oil of turpentine, precisely, never scumbling.[1]

Lautrec’s free-ranging embrace and radical interpretation of this painting technique is evident in Woman seated on a sofa,and is instructive in terms of his great originality. The ‘disorderly’ nature of his painting appears to have initiated some concern, as Charles Angrand wrote to his fellow Pointillist artist, Paul Signac, on 2 April the following year:

But you seem to be concerned more about Lautrec, I appreciated very much some finds of unusual colours, which, naturally I should have wished to be more orderly.[2]

JK

[1] François Gauzi, My friend Toulouse-Lautrec, translated by Paul Dinnage, London: Neville Spearman Ltd, 1957, p. 61.

[2]Charles Angrand, in François Lespinasse (ed.), Charles Angrand, correspondances, 1883–1926, Rouen F. Lespinasse, 1988, letter no. 519, [2 April 1898], p. 92, quoted by Anne Roquebert, in Claire Frèches-Thory, Anne Roquebert and Richard Thomson, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, Paris: South Bank Centre, Réunion des musées nationaux and the Musée d’Orsay, 1991,
p. 540.



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