Houses of Tolerance

Considered a significant subject of modern life, prostitution captured the attention of both writers and visual artists. Edmond de Goncourt and Emile Zola were leading figures in Naturalism – a literary movement where writers drew their ideas from observation. In the visual arts, a similar approach to examining and recording modern life was adopted by artists such as Edgar Degas and subsequently by Lautrec.

Houses of tolerance [maisons de tolérance] were established in Paris during the early nineteenth century to regulate prostitution. Luxurious establishments [maisons de luxes] were located in the suburbs of the well-to-do. Alternatively, less wealthy men queued at the ‘slaughterhouses’ [maisonsd’abattage] for a liaison in miserable surrounds.

The dissolute nature of the brothels appealed to Lautrec, as did the matter-of-fact transactions and the unselfconscious attitudes of the prostitutes. Lautrec visited brothels with his friend François Gauzi:

Ever on the look-out for new models, and attracted to those with the most striking personalities, Lautrec frequented … the brothels of the rue des Moulins, the rue d’Amboise, and the rue Joubert. So that he should miss nothing of the private life of their lodgers, he took to having meals with these ladies…

Accepted as a regular visitor, Lautrec was afforded access to the private lives of the prostitutes.

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