Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

La pierreuse Gabrielle

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
La pierreuse Gabrielle
signed with the artist's monogram (upper left)
pastel on sandpaper
23 5/8 x 19¼ in. (60 x 49 cm.)
Executed in 1893
Sévadjian; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 22 March 1920, lot 27.
M. Dimier, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Jonas Netter, Paris, by 1946 and thence by descent to the present owner.
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1864-1901, vol. I, Paris, 1926, pp. 158 & 284.
E. Schaub Koch, Psychanalyse d'un peintre moderne, Paris, 1935, p. 191.
J. Lassaigne, Le goût de notre temps, Lautrec, Paris, 1953, p. 72.
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, vol. II, New York, 1971, no. P.504, p. 310 (illustrated p. 311; catalogued with erroneous support and location of the monogram).

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Cornelia Svedman
Cornelia Svedman

Lot Essay

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec executed La pierreuse Gabrielle in 1893 at the very height of his artistic career. Gabrielle, the figure depicted here, would seem to be the same Gabrielle who appears in a number of important oils painted by Lautrec in the first half of the 1890s. In those works, the recognizably corpulent Gabrielle is presented in various different contexts and guises. Lautrec painted two portraits of her in the sunny surrounds of Père Forest's garden in Montmartre (Dortu P.359 & 393; Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi & National Gallery, London); she is the figure to the left in the celebrated Au Moulin-Rouge: la clownesse Cha-u-Kao (Dortu P.583; Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur); she is portrayed as a prostitute in Deux femmes de la rue des Moulins (Dortu P.557; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC); and she again appears in the Sapphic brothel scene, Le sofa (Dortu P. 601; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, amongst other examples.

Lautrec famously drew his inspiration from the heady, bohemian environment of Montmartre and the 'pierreuse' of the present title is possibly a reference to prostitution. Pierreuse was slang for a street-walker or insoumise, the lowest type of unregulated prostitute who operated illegally at a time when prostitution in Paris was, when registered, legal. A model and well-known dancer of the caf-concert, it is difficult to say whether Gabrielle was, in fact, a prostitute, or merely a useful model to pose as such. In a study of Parisian society, published about the time the present work was executed, there is a Gabrielle listed as an 'ex-dancer', and described as 'great and robust' and 'of an open and comely figure' (M. Delsol, Paris-Cythère: étude de moeurs parisiennes, Paris, circa 1893, p. 36). The many roles Gabrielle plays in Lautrec's work epitomise the opaque and often ambiguous position of Montmartre's entertainers who, notwithstanding the fame they could achieve, existed outside bourgeois societal norms. Lautrec was an habitué of Paris' café-concerts and its maisons closes, and is renowned for the masterly way in which he captured this seamy side of fin-de-siècle Paris in vital and intense imagery.

Portraiture played an important role in Lautrec's oeuvre. As Richard Thomson has noted, Lautrec's 'shrewd psychological analyses of the denizens of Montmartre, and his intricate, humourous, and ambiguous ways of weaving them into the discourse of the day, remain remarkable social and artistic documents (Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, exh. cat., Washington D. C., 2005, p. 70). In La pierreuse Gabrielle the model's hardened features and stony, almost suspicious gaze bespeak a life of difficulty. This reflects Lautrec's approach to capturing, 'truth rather than the ideal' and illustrates the distinct psychological acuity he attained in his portraits. (Lautrec, quoted in A. Roquebert, 'Portraits', in Toulouse-Lautrec, exh. cat., London and Paris, 1991, p. 139). That expressive dimension is harnessed through Lautrec's incredible use of his pastel medium: the broad, quick strokes articulating Gabrielle's high-necked blouse, the visible support and the consummate modelling of the face are characteristic features of his portraits of the time. The bold use of blues and pinks add to the impact of this particularly searching portrait of a woman who lived at the very margins of respectable society.

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