Brame & Lorenceau have confirmed the authenticity of this work, which is registered in their Louis Anquetin archives.
Painted in 1889, Femme à sa toilette emerged at the height of Louis Anquetin’s involvement with the Parisian avant-garde. At this time, the artist was at the heart of a dynamic circle of painters living and working in Montmartre, many of whom had met during lessons at the atelier of Fernand Cormon, and counted amongst his close friends and acquaintances Émile Bernard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. This informal group of painters, which Van Gogh nicknamed ‘the painters of the petit boulevard’ in discussions with his brother Theo, were united by a shared desire to move beyond Impressionism and Pointillism in their work and develop a new pictorial language and style that would accurately reflect their modern spirit. Anquetin was hailed as the leading figure within the group, admired for his technical skills, ever-evolving style, and clarity of expression amongst his friends – indeed, Lautrec went so far as to proclaim Anquetin the most richly gifted painter to have arrived in Paris since Manet. Amongst the most important of his contributions to the theoretical and artistic musings of the group was his development of Cloisonnisme, a painterly approach marked by simplified drawing and the use of strongly outlined fields of pure colour that drew its inspiration from medieval stained glass and Japanese woodblock prints.
By the summer of 1889, though, Anquetin had grown tired of the limitations of the Cloisonnist style and began to move towards a more refined compositional approach in his work, characterised by softer, more lyrical lines and ornately patterned surfaces. While la vie moderne remained his primary subject matter, focusing on city life and its array of characters in the vein of Manet, Degas and Daumier, his oeuvre during this period was dominated by intimate portraits of elegant young Parisian women, perhaps inspired by his own relationship with the model Marie Valette. Sensual and somewhat erotic, these paintings celebrate the delicate features and smooth, porcelain skin of the artist’s serene young sitters, who were often shown in elegantly decorated rooms filled by a sumptuous array of patterned wallpapers, fabrics, and furnishings. In Femme à sa toilette, the sitter is captured in a state of semi-undress, wearing only a translucent chemise and skirt, as she draws a brush slowly through the long, curly red hair cascading over her shoulders. While the subject contains echoes of Degas’ intimate views of women bathing, here, the model looks straight at the artist, the bold directness of her gaze recalling Manet’s iconic 1877 composition Nana, while also adding a frisson of tension to the scene.
Femme à sa toilette counts amongst its previous owners the esteemed Belgian collectors and artists Eugène and Anna Boch, a brother and sister duo who were key members of the European avant-garde towards the end of the 19th Century. Anna, the older of the two, was an early member of Les XX and the Libre Esthétique, specialising in luminous Pointillist-inspired landscape paintings. Eugène, meanwhile, had moved to Paris in the late 1870s and began to study at the atelier Cormon alongside Lautrec, Anquetin and Van Gogh, who would later paint his portrait. Eugène acted as an important link between Paris and Brussels at this time, reporting on the most recent developments of the city’s art scene, and introducing the work of the painters of the petite boulevard to Les XX. The Bochs were visionary in their collecting, amassing a large array of important post-impressionist and modernist works that included paintings by Signac, Seurat, Gauguin, the Fauves, the Nabis, Picasso and Cézanne, and were responsible for purchasing one of the only works Van Gogh ever sold during his lifetime.