Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Head of a girl [TĂȘte de fille]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Head of a girl [TĂȘte de fille] 1892 oil on canvas
27.3 (h) x 23.0 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.454 Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1959 with funds donated by Major Harold de Vahl Rubin

This oval panel falls within a small category of portraits of prostitutes, completely different in style from other works in the artist’s oeuvre. While Lautrec’s brothel paintings were largely concentrated to the years 1892–95, he had begun painting prostitutes as early as 1887 and would continue to do so up until his death in 1901. This painting is one of 16 commissioned by the madam or patronne of a grand bordello on the rue d’Amboise – the same Paris street in which the artist then lived. Lautrec was asked to design and decorate a large salon used as the formal dining room. The prevailing style within the house was seventeenth-century Rococo, with rooms filled with Louis XV furnishings and furniture.

Lautrec created 16 oval medallions of approximately equal size. These were set into Rococo cornices, with flourishes at the top and bottom of their gold frames. Like Head of a girl [Tête de fille], each medallion depicted the upper torso of a youthful-looking woman. Elaborate flower garlands surrounded the panels, along with other Rococo flounces and spiralling embellishments, set against pale yellow walls with white painted woodwork. The design for the room signals the artist’s active interest in the decorative arts at that time.

The elegant young woman represented in Head of a girl, turned in profile, with bare shoulders and stylish coiffure, demonstrates the simple yet decorative characteristics generally associated with profile portraits that had fascinated Lautrec from the beginning of his career. While his interest intensified with this commission, the artist would continue to explore the profile portrait in many more penetrating studies of his favourite prostitutes and models, also family members.

Although radically different from his conventional style, these paintings are important in mapping the timeline of Lautrec’s exploration of the theme of prostitutes. They constitute important transitional works that precede his less glamorous portrayals of courtesans in their everyday, often mundane lives. The artist worked with two men at the polar extremes of painting – a student of the Salon artist Puvis de Chavannes and a housepainter. This may have lead to the more popular middle-range juste milieu style, rather than Lautrec’s usual cutting edge approach. Painted in the Rococo-inspired style then in vogue, Head of a girl is also indebted to Jules Chéret’s masterful creations, known as ‘Cherettes’ – the dazzlingly joyful, elegant and lively women who populated his famous posters of la belle époque.
The important distinction is that each of these decorative medallions represents the face of one of the prostitutes who actually lived and worked in the house.

Head of a girl is surprising for a distinction and finesse not usually found in Lautrec’s work. The beautifully modelled porcelain features are set off to sumptuous effect against the simple pastel-green background. Although based on real individuals, Lautrec presented each one as a different ‘type’ – an exotic dark beauty, a blonde or a brunette and, as in Head of a girl, a dazzling redhead.

SM

This oval panel falls within a small category of portraits of prostitutes, completely different in style from other works in the artist’s oeuvre. While Lautrec’s brothel paintings were largely concentrated to the years 1892–95, he had begun painting prostitutes as early as 1887 and would continue to do so up until his death in 1901. This painting is one of 16 commissioned by the madam or patronne of a grand bordello on the rue d’Amboise – the same Paris street in which the artist then lived. Lautrec was asked to design and decorate a large salon used as the formal dining room. The prevailing style within the house was seventeenth-century Rococo, with rooms filled with Louis XV furnishings and furniture.

Lautrec created 16 oval medallions of approximately equal size. These were set into Rococo cornices, with flourishes at the top and bottom of their gold frames. Like Head of a girl [Tête de fille], each medallion depicted the upper torso of a youthful-looking woman. Elaborate flower garlands surrounded the panels, along with other Rococo flounces and spiralling embellishments, set against pale yellow walls with white painted woodwork. The design for the room signals the artist’s active interest in the decorative arts at that time.

The elegant young woman represented in Head of a girl, turned in profile, with bare shoulders and stylish coiffure, demonstrates the simple yet decorative characteristics generally associated with profile portraits that had fascinated Lautrec from the beginning of his career. While his interest intensified with this commission, the artist would continue to explore the profile portrait in many more penetrating studies of his favourite prostitutes and models, also family members.

Although radically different from his conventional style, these paintings are important in mapping the timeline of Lautrec’s exploration of the theme of prostitutes. They constitute important transitional works that precede his less glamorous portrayals of courtesans in their everyday, often mundane lives. The artist worked with two men at the polar extremes of painting – a student of the Salon artist Puvis de Chavannes and a housepainter. This may have lead to the more popular middle-range juste milieu style, rather than Lautrec’s usual cutting edge approach. Painted in the Rococo-inspired style then in vogue, Head of a girl is also indebted to Jules Chéret’s masterful creations, known as ‘Cherettes’ – the dazzlingly joyful, elegant and lively women who populated his famous posters of la belle époque.
The important distinction is that each of these decorative medallions represents the face of one of the prostitutes who actually lived and worked in the house.

Head of a girl is surprising for a distinction and finesse not usually found in Lautrec’s work. The beautifully modelled porcelain features are set off to sumptuous effect against the simple pastel-green background. Although based on real individuals, Lautrec presented each one as a different ‘type’ – an exotic dark beauty, a blonde or a brunette and, as in Head of a girl, a dazzling redhead.

SM

This oval panel falls within a small category of portraits of prostitutes, completely different in style from other works in the artist’s oeuvre. While Lautrec’s brothel paintings were largely concentrated to the years 1892–95, he had begun painting prostitutes as early as 1887 and would continue to do so up until his death in 1901. This painting is one of 16 commissioned by the madam or patronne of a grand bordello on the rue d’Amboise – the same Paris street in which the artist then lived. Lautrec was asked to design and decorate a large salon used as the formal dining room. The prevailing style within the house was seventeenth-century Rococo, with rooms filled with Louis XV furnishings and furniture.

Lautrec created 16 oval medallions of approximately equal size. These were set into Rococo cornices, with flourishes at the top and bottom of their gold frames. Like Head of a girl [Tête de fille], each medallion depicted the upper torso of a youthful-looking woman. Elaborate flower garlands surrounded the panels, along with other Rococo flounces and spiralling embellishments, set against pale yellow walls with white painted woodwork. The design for the room signals the artist’s active interest in the decorative arts at that time.

The elegant young woman represented in Head of a girl, turned in profile, with bare shoulders and stylish coiffure, demonstrates the simple yet decorative characteristics generally associated with profile portraits that had fascinated Lautrec from the beginning of his career. While his interest intensified with this commission, the artist would continue to explore the profile portrait in many more penetrating studies of his favourite prostitutes and models, also family members.

Although radically different from his conventional style, these paintings are important in mapping the timeline of Lautrec’s exploration of the theme of prostitutes. They constitute important transitional works that precede his less glamorous portrayals of courtesans in their everyday, often mundane lives. The artist worked with two men at the polar extremes of painting – a student of the Salon artist Puvis de Chavannes and a housepainter. This may have lead to the more popular middle-range juste milieu style, rather than Lautrec’s usual cutting edge approach. Painted in the Rococo-inspired style then in vogue, Head of a girl is also indebted to Jules Chéret’s masterful creations, known as ‘Cherettes’ – the dazzlingly joyful, elegant and lively women who populated his famous posters of la belle époque.
The important distinction is that each of these decorative medallions represents the face of one of the prostitutes who actually lived and worked in the house.

Head of a girl is surprising for a distinction and finesse not usually found in Lautrec’s work. The beautifully modelled porcelain features are set off to sumptuous effect against the simple pastel-green background. Although based on real individuals, Lautrec presented each one as a different ‘type’ – an exotic dark beauty, a blonde or a brunette and, as in Head of a girl, a dazzling redhead.

SM



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