Toulouse-Lautrec’s work depicted those on the fringes of popular society with dignity and honesty. Despite his upbringing as an aristocrat within high social circles, Lautrec’s oeuvre focused upon the marginalised, with his keen observations of the realities of working life and the people within it conveyed without judgement. ‘Femme de Maison’ is a strikingly vivid portrait of one such woman.
Lautrec’s art displays the normalcy of these working women, depicting them dressing, sleeping or washing. Although there was often an overlap between models and prostitutes, Lautrec’s use of working women adds a certain degree of candour to his paintings such as ‘Femme de Maison’. Seeking to present the asymmetrical beauty of women’s faces, the artist bestowed “that touch of ugliness without which there is no salvation”. Lautrec presents this woman of the brothel with ferocity in her character - which is echoed by the strong colours used – instead of the stereotypical victim.
A mature work by Lautrec, ‘Femme de Maison’ in an exceptional and highly finished portrait. Her richly painted skin and hair contrast against the thinner layers of paint in the background. Lautrec divides the work into sections isolating the yellow of her hair, the red of the neckerchief and green of her dress, giving the painting an arresting boldness.
The unique quality of ‘Femme de maison’ comes from Lautrec’s use of peinture a l’essence (oil paint thinned with turpentine), a technique that he used throughout his career. It gives a matt finish to the work, akin to drawing or pastel, allowing Lautrec to create paintings at speed in the same way as a drawing.
The model for ‘Femme de Maison’ likely appears in a number of Lautrec’s paintings. Clearly taken by his subject, Lautrec made another profile portrait of her the same year which featured in an exhibition at MoMA in 1955. Lautrec largely used the profile format for sketches and studies but in the present work he used the view for a fully rendered painting, elevating his subject through a formal means of portraiture.
‘Femme de maison’ was previously in the collection of Maurice Joyant, a close friend and avid supporter of Lautrec. Upon the artist’s death at the age of 37 in 1901, Joyant directed his estate and, alongside the artist’s mother, helped establish Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in his hometown of Albi. ‘Femme de maison’ has been part of numerous exhibitions internationally, including a major show of the artist’s work at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1947.
Maurice Joyant, Paris
M.G. Dortu, Le Vésinet (acquired from the above c.1930)
Private Collection, Geneva (acquired after 1959)
Joe R. and Teresa L. Long (acquired from the above 13 January 2006)
Manzi-Joyant, Exposition retrospective de
l'oeuvre de H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, 1914, no.77, illus.
Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, Exposition
H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, au profit de la Societé des Amis du Musée d'Albi,
London, M. Knoedler & Co., Toulouse-Lautrec,
Paintings and Drawings, France, 1938, no.25
Paris, Galerie M. Knoedler & Cie., Toulouse-Lautrec,
1864-1901, 1938, no.24
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec, 1947, no.35 (titled Vrouwenkop)
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts,Toulouse-Lautrec,
1864-1901, 1947, no.35 (titled Tête
Albi, Musée de la Berbie, Toulouse-Lautrec,
ses amis et ses maîtres, commémoration par le Musée d'Albi du cinquantième
anniversaire de la mort du peintre, 1951, no.142
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Chefs-d'oeuvre
de Toulouse-Lautrec appartenant au Musée d'Albi et à des collections
françaises, 1959, no.141
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Chefs-d'oeuvre de Toulouse-Lautrec appartenant au Musée d'Albi et à des collections françaises, 1959, no. 141
Arsène Alexandre, 'Exposition
rétrospective de l'oeuvre de H. de Toulouse-Lautrec', Les Arts, no. 152, Paris, August 1914, p.13, illus.
Maurice Joyant, Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec, Peintre, Paris, 1926, p.285
Pierre Cabanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, lecture
pour tous, 1959, p.22, illus.
Raymond Charmet, Arts, March 11,
1959, mentioned p.16
Giorgio Caproni & G.M. Sugana, L'Opera
completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1969, no. 378a, p.111 (titled Ospite di una "casa")
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son
oeuvre, vol. III, New York, 1971, no. P.540, pp.332-333, illus.