Le Lit
signed and dated 'TLautrec 98' (upper right)
peinture à l'essence on panel
16 1/8 x 12 1/2 in. (41 x 31.6 cm.)
Painted in 1898
Etienne Goujon, Paris; Estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 28 March 1919, lot 69.
Marc Olivier, Paris and London (by 1934).
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London (acquired from the above, 4 March 1936).
Etienne Bignou, Paris (acquired from the above, March 1936).
Georges Bernheim, Paris.
Wildenstein & Co. Ltd., London (acquired from the above, 1938).
Chester and Helen Gertrude Beatty, London (acquired from the above, 21 June 1938); Estate sale, Sotheby's, London, 25 June 1991, lot 7.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 1995, lot 74.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
M. Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Peintre, Paris, 1926, p. 297.
G. Jedlicka, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Berlin, 1929, p. 393 (illustrated, fig. 163; titled Schlafende).
J. Lassaigne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1939, p. 167 (illustrated, fig. 134).
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1952, p. 10, no. 59 (illustrated).
M.G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, New York, 1971, vol. III, p. 410, no. P. 669 (illustrated, p. 411).
G. Caprioni and G.M Sugana, L'opera completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan, 1977, p. 117, no. 475 (illustrated).
London, M. Knoedler & Co., Toulouse-Lautrec, February 1934, no. 8.
London, The Tate Gallery, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1961, no. 65 (titled Girl on a Bed).
Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge, December 2012-April 2013, p. 153 (illustrated in color, p. 152).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Picasso/Lautrec, October 2017-January 2018, pp. 217 and 231, no. 108 (illustrated in color, p. 217; illustrated again in color, p. 231).

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Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

Painted in 1898, Le Lit is a captivating example of the sensitivity of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s vision during the final years of the nineteenth century. Focusing on a semi-nude woman as she enjoys a moment of quiet solitude and contemplation, this enigmatic composition illustrates not only the sophistication of Lautrec’s mature painterly technique during these years, as he conjures a rich luminosity in an array of subtle tints and hues, but also his innate understanding of the inner-lives of his subjects. Renowned as a chronicler of the heady nightlife of fin de siècle Paris, Le Lit reveals an alternate side to Lautrec’s oeuvre, rooted in the quiet moments of normality and everyday reality that lay behind the façade of decadence and revelry for which the city was known. Formerly in the renowned collection of Chester Beatty, the painting was purchased by Ann and Gordon Getty in the mid-1990s.
Writing to his mother Adèle in early November 1897, Lautrec described the overwhelming urge to paint that he felt with the arrival of a new model: “I fight every day against sleep…against laziness, to work with a reliable model whom I was finally lucky enough to hire” (H.D. Schimmel, ed., The Letters of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Oxford, 1991, no. 487, p. 308). The model in question was une rousse, a redhead, a trait the artist typically favored in his female subjects. She is likely the young woman whom Lautrec depicted in the present Le Lit. In À la toilette of the same year (Dortu, no. P. 667), Lautrec called her “Madame Poupoule” (Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1979, p. 297). She was a prostitute and a model—common, dual means for lower class working girls, on their own, to make a living in Paris at that time.
By the end of 1897 Lautrec had painted his new, shapely, and dependable, auburn-haired model in two nude figure compositions, as well as a third in which her lower half is exposed (Dortu, nos. P. 648-650). Around this time, he also moved to a new apartment on avenue Frochot, a private, tree-lined street near the Place Pigalle, favored by artists, musicians, and writers. When no. 15—formerly the residence of the Barbizon landscapist Charles-François Daubigny—became available, Lautrec jumped at the opportunity, signing the lease in early 1898 and setting up his new studio space. The next few months were spent in preparations for the 30 April opening of the artist’s exhibition at Maurice Joyant’s Goupil Gallery in London, comprising 65 works Lautrec had completed since the beginning of the decade. Later that year, back in Paris, Lautrec painted Le Lit, À la toilette: Madame Poupoule, and possibly another study of this model, Femme nue debout, de face (Dortu, no. P. 667). Madame Poupoule is again named in the full title of Le Coucher, 1899 (no. 678), while she also appears to have been the subject in another La Toilette, 1900 (no. 710), and finally in Femme retroussant sa chemise, painted only months before the artist’s death in September 1901 (no. 723).
In choosing to paint the mysteriously intense, fiery-haired, but otherwise anonymous Madame Poupoule, Lautrec deliberately turned away from such Montmartre cabaret, cult personalities as Jane Avril, La Goulue, Yvette Guilbert, and May Belfort, whom he depicted in lively, performance situations that had brought him notice and notoriety in recent years. He instead attended to the more personal and introspective side of his art, set within the intimate confines of his new studio, now a much-appreciated haven from the rest of his life. Lautrec sought to retrench and center himself by concentrating on the fundamental skills that had served him well to this point, before re-immersing himself in the admiring, at times affectionate, but often sardonic theatricality that he typically brought to his more public subjects.
Madame Poupoule was in many ways able to serve as a comforting, facilitating, and inspiring muse for the artist, during a period of personal tumult and ill-health. In the glowing warmth of Le Lit, especially, her presence alludes to two of Lautrec’s most significant achievements of the previous half-dozen years, both revealing the artist’s empathetic fascination with the nurturing, if still provocatively sexual aspects of l’éternel féminin. In April 1896, Lautrec unveiled in a gallery exhibition his recent series of color lithographs, Elles (“Them”, feminine plural, as perceived from the masculine point-of-view—“us”), depicting intimate scenes from the lives of women. Female figures au lit, weary from their daily travail, comprise four of the ten prints. The images in Elles proceeded from the most scandalous sequence in all Lautrec’s oeuvre—following a prologue of four paintings showing lesbian couples in bed (Dortu, nos. 436-439), the artist created some threescore pictures during 1892-1894, in which he revealed the lives of those he called “les fonctionnières de l’amour”, behind the doors of les maisons closes, the legal, regulated houses of prostitution in Paris.
In many ways, Lautrec enjoyed an unprecedented freedom of access to a number of these establishments: “He became, in a sense, one of the family of the women in the brothels,” Julia Frey has written, “a friend and confidant, eating meals with them, getting to know their problems, participating in their gossip, observing them in their various occupations and pleasures…” (Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life, London, 1994, p. 345). These close, familiar relationships not only allowed Toulouse-Lautrec to observe the women in every aspect of their lives, it also granted his work a powerful sense of empathy, infusing his paintings with a personal dimension that set them apart from the compositions of his contemporaries. Crucially for Lautrec, who only painted people whom he found interesting, the characters he met in les maisons closes were full of life. “Models always look as if they were stuffed,” he explained. “These women are alive. I wouldn’t dare pay them to pose for me, yet God knows they’re worth it… They’re so lacking in pretension, you know” (quoted in H. Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1960, p. 157).
In Le Lit, Lautrec places his model in seemingly sumptuous surroundings, indicated by the outline of the ornate, monumental headboard behind her, the rich red fabric of the blankets on the bed, and the patterned drapes that line the edge of the space. Each of these elements are only summarily described, loosely rendered in a play of brief, rapid strokes of pigment, allowing the woman to become the primary focus within the scene. With no one else present, she is free to daydream and appears lost in her own thoughts, gazing out through the window just visible on the right hand side of the composition, her body casual and relaxed in an unassuming pose. Pulling her nightdress up to her waist, she leaves her lower-half completely bare, revealing a stretch of soft, luminous skin that Lautrec fills with layers of subtly modulated color. Though the angle does not allow us to see the woman’s face in full, there is an air of quiet, dreamy languor to the scene, as if we are glimpsing a private, personal moment in which she escapes, momentarily, from reality into her own inner world.

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