Lautrec’s sketches and paintings from this time reveal naturalistic and unidealized accounts of working women who are frequently depicted in between engagements, casually leaning on couches, adjusting their clothing, or talking among themselves (see fig. 1). An anonymous portrait, the present work depicts one such femmes de maison in a poised and quiet setting. The profile view, often used by Lautrec in his sketches and preliminary studies, here is employed in the service of a fully rendered painting, in effect elevating the standing of his subject by the more formal means of portraiture (see fig. 2).
In brilliant washes of thinned oil paint, Lautrec illuminates the sitter’s golden hair with contrasting notes of green, pink and white. The sparsely painted background situates her in a simple interior, drawing attention to the figure and causing the room to recede behind her. The plain silhouette of her dress is enriched by a bold use of reds and blues, which balance the woman’s fair complexion and hair.
Lautrec’s loose yet determined handling of paint and brilliant understanding of color enliven even the simplest compositions. A master draftsman and caricaturist, Lautrec often exaggerated his theatrical subjects for his earlier lithographic and commercial works (see fig. 3). Paintings from this period, however, reveal a familiarity and decided empathy for his subjects. Lautrec’s accounts of Parisian brothels and their employees do not aim to tantalize; rather these calm and quotidian scenes lend a sense of normalcy to the women’s profession (see fig. 4), and reflect a candor which Lautrec found lacking in typical artists’ models. In 1896, Lautrec’s interest in the world of the maison close would reappear in a series of color lithographs titled Elles, depicting, like his earlier works, the candid and quiet interstices of daily life in the brothels.
Having originated in the Baumgarten collection, Femme de maison later belonged to Maurice Joyant, a close personal friend of the artist and major proponent of his work. After Lautrec’s untimely death in 1901, Joyant directed the artist’s estate and helped establish the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in his hometown of Albi.
The present work was created just after Lautrec’s first retrospective, held by Joyant at his gallery Boussod, Valadon et Cie. in 1893, and later debuted in his 1914 retrospective at the Galerie Manzi-Joyant. Dortu’s catalogue raisonné locates a variation of this work in a private collection, executed just before the present work. Reproductions of this version in Dortu as well as Joyant’s 1926 biography of Lautrec show a slightly less finished composition, with comparatively lighter pigmentation and less definition in both the face and dress of the sitter.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale