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

Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins
signed 'T Lautrec' (lower right)
oil, pastel and peinture à l'essence on cardboard
26 3/8 x 20 7/8 in. (67 x 53 cm.)
Painted in 1893
Gustave Pellet, Paris.
Maurice Exsteens, Paris.
Galerie Klipstein & Kornfeld, Bern.
Jean-Louis Barthélémy.
Akram Ojjeh, Monaco, by whom acquired from the above in 1982; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 1999, lot 117.
Acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent to the present owners.
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, vol. I, Paris, 1926, p. 283. R. Charmet, 'Cinquante nouveaux Lautrec, trésors des collections privées', in Arts, 11-17 March 1959, no. 713, p. 16.
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, vol. II, New York, 1971, no. P.495, p. 304 (illustrated p. 305; as unsigned).
Exh. cat., Toulouse-Lautrec, Hayward Gallery, London, 1991, p. 409 (illustrated pl. h).
Basel, Kunsthalle, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, May - June 1947, no. 128; this exhibition later travelled to Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, July - August 1947; and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, September - November 1947, no. 27.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Chefs d'Oeuvre de Toulouse-Lautrec, March - April 1959, no. 136.
Bern, Galerie Klipstein & Kornfeld, Choix d'une collection privée, 1960, no. 71 (illustrated pp. 108 & 109).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Austellung Toulouse-Lautrec, October - December 1961, no. 142; this exhibition later travelled to Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, December 1961 - February 1962.
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Lautrec "elles", 1976, no. 7, p. 17 (illustrated).
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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
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Lot Essay

Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins was conceived in 1893 at the pinnacle of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's career, just after he had captured the audience's attention with a series of iconic posters, celebrating Paris's cabaret scene and its most legendary performers. The work shows a scene of playful teasing as a girl lifts her skirt to reveal her bare buttocks to her pursuer in a gesture of salacious invitation. Executed on board, it combines pastel and oil painting with peinture l'essence, a technique using oil diluted with turpentine whose fluidity allowed Toulouse-Lautrec to capture his subjects quickly and spontaneously.

Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins evokes the cheerfully lascivious atmosphere of one of the most exclusive maisons closes of the city. The high-end brothels in rue d'Amboise and rue des Moulins had long, illustrious histories, going back to the time of Louis XIV when the district had serviced the Court's aristocracy. At the end of the Nineteenth Century, at 6 rue des Moulins, Marie-Victoire Denis ran a luxurious brothel which had maintained the theatrical splendour of its past. Dramatically decorated, the house indulged the exotic fantasies of its clients. Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins was executed there, capturing the careless games of an institution designed to counteract the rigid moral strictures of bourgeois society.

Provocative and outspoken, Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins places its viewers in a compromised position: offended, they are scorned for their hypocrisy; enticed, they are lured into derision by their own lust. The work starkly expresses Toulouse-Lautrec's loathing for the false pretensions and moral conventions of bourgeois society. The girl's insolent gesture embodies Toulouse-Lautrec's own defiant confrontation with the respectable, well-behaved visitors of the Salon, where under the convenient guise of mythological and allegorical themes, sensuous and erotic nudes were often blamelessly exhibited.

At the time Toulouse-Lautrec painted Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins, he was actually living in the brothel. A popular character there, he was free to roam its corridors and witness its debauched vignettes at will. He grew close to many of the brothel's inhabitants - Rolande, Marcelle, Gabrielle and above all Mireille - becoming their confidant and friend. Many of the sketches from this period express Toulouse-Lautrec's close and sincere observance of the private life of these girls. He depicted them at their toilette, sleeping, playing cards and resting, and eventually developed these subjects into a series of ten lithographs, Elles. The album was published in 1896 by Gustave Pellet, the first owner of Dans l'escalier de la rue des Moulins.

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