Lautrec and La Rouge

"I paint things as they are. I don't comment. I record."
-Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec





The painting above is one of my absolute favorites. It is called "La Toilette" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It was painted in 1889 (100 years before I was born). Toulouse-Lautrec, as I have mentioned in a previous post, was a curious individual. Physically stunted, taunted by his peers and unable to participate in other male activities at the time, Lautrec immersed himself in art.

"Of course one should not drink much, but often."
-Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Despite his aristocratic background, his physical ailment and diminutive height pushed him into the role of the outcast; the observe; a witness. In Paris, he established himself in the Montmartre district; a famous gathering in time and space for artists, writers, philosophers and bohemians. He lived by drinking often and spending his time in the dancehalls and brothels that made up the underbelly of Paris. A source of inspiration and subject matter for his art.

-on women in the brothel...'A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive." -Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

With a keen eye and an impeccable talent for drawing, Lautrec drew the prostitutes, drinkers and dancers around him. Always the watcher, rarely a judge. The figures are depicted as they are. Beauty and ugliness, exists side by side in sordid caves and ballrooms. The light is has a sickly glow, the energy is frenetic and often, the perspective could come from any patron overlooked in the room. His work is voyeuristic. As the outcast, he does not participate. He records and observes, the energy of his own expression in his frantic, sculptural linework and the thin, pure colors that flash in the humid, stale air.

"Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly that you feel you could die of it." -Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The painting above is wonderfully voyeuristic. The figure is beautifully drawn, but not posed in an enticing way. The room is a mess. The composition is cropped as if it were a snapshot through a doorway. It hints of Vermeer. Each object, insignificant in itself, is lovingly drawn and exquisitely colored.

Best of all for me is the red hair of the model. One of my favorite aspects that often appear in Lautrec paintings is his mastery of painting red hair. He captures the copper, the yellows and the deep reds that flash through the pigment. I love it. It is beautiful and it shows up often in his work. It may just be a "thing" I have for red hair and he does it magnificently. There are multitude of hues and colors that hide within it; that are unlocked under different lights. It is always changing, always bright and a focal point for models who possess it. It is also very challenging to paint. Lautrec must have felt similarly as is most famous model, Jane Avril, (interpreted my Nicole Kidman in the Movie Moulin Rouge), had red hair and was painted time and time again.

Lautrec and I are not the only ones intrigued by red. To conclude, here is a poem by a favorite poet of mine, Robert Hass

The Problem of Describing Color

If I said-remembering in summer,

The cardinal's sudden smudge of red

In the bare gray winter woods-

If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat

Of the girl with pooched-out lips

Dangling a wiry lapdog

In the painting by Renoir-

If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut-

Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air

On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano-

If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,

If she tells fortunes with a deck of fallen leaves

Until it comes out right-

Rouged Nipple, mouth-

(How could you not love a woman who cheats at the Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, Red.

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