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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer







Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (France 1864-1901)
Portrait of a Girl, 1892
Oil on canvas
11 3/8 x 9 ½ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000


In 1892, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec received a commission from a patronne (madam) to decorate a maison close (brothel) on the rue d’Amboise, where he was currently a resident, with portraits of 16 of the establishment’s prostitutes. Portrait of a Girl, taken together with the other 15, provided clientele with some idea of the features of the individual prostitutes, and Toulouse-Lautrec emphasized her beauty and fashion, though his expressive rendering in the complementary colors of red and green may not have been entirely helpful in that respect.

Toulouse-Lautrec painted an illusionistic gold frame around each of the medallion-shaped portraits to harmonize with the interior of the brothel, which was housed in a converted seventeenth-century Parisian palace with rococo decorations and Louis XV furniture. He reportedly painted flower garlands and other ornaments around the portraits, which drew a parallel between the operations of the brothel and the pretentions of eighteenth-century aristocratic life as though both were equally decadent. The room was eventually dismantled in the years following World War I.

Residing at a brothel was not unusual for Toulouse-Lautrec, despite belonging to an aristocratic family. Toulouse-Lautrec was particularly attracted to depicting the underside of Parisian life, including brothels and nightclubs. He inherited a bone disease that stunted the growth of his legs and, following a series of injuries, he was left disabled. In 1899, he was briefly institutionalized, and he suffered a fatal stroke in 1901.