Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Woman pulling on her stocking (Prostitute) [Femme tirant son bas (Femme de maison)]

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Woman pulling on her stocking (Prostitute) [Femme tirant son bas (Femme de maison)] [Prostitute [Femme de maison]; Femme qui tire son bas (Dortu title)] 1894 oil on cardboard on cardboard
58.0 (h) x 46.0 (w) cm
Reference: Dortu P.552 Musée d’Orsay, Paris Donation of André Berthellemy, 1930

Of the large number of paintings and drawings that Lautrec made of brothels, only rarely did he include naked prostitutes. In Woman pulling on her stocking (Prostitute) [Femme tirant son bas (Femme de maison)] he juxtaposes a fully clothed woman on the left, wearing the typical loose robe worn by many of Lautrec’s prostitutes, beside the more prominent and barely dressed figure on the right, who wears only a green scarf and black stockings. The artist captures her adjusting her garter.

From the mid nineteenth century, when hemlines were slightly raised and women’s ankles were seen for the first time, stockings changed from the traditional white to extremely colourful. By the end of the century fashion had shifted again and utilitarian black hosiery became the norm. Stockings were usually held up by suspenders attached either to a belt or to the hem of a short shift. In this painting Lautrec shows the woman in the more sexually provocative, but rather old-fashioned garters, tied above the knee, but wont to slip down unexpectedly.

Woman pulling on her stocking is dominated by the artist’s use of green, with just a hint of pink scarf and red on the lips of the women. According to Symbolist colour theory, of which Lautrec would have been aware, this combination of colours created a sexual atmosphere. Coupled with the woman’s nudity, one might expect a rather erotic scene. However, the less than provocative stance of the women counters any such reading of the painting. Lautrec takes a similar approach in his series on prostitutes having health checks, with their skirts gathered up around their waists. Despite their nakedness, those women, too, look remarkably undesirable.

Lautrec emphasises the facial features of both women – one sharp featured, the other broad and rather flat. Both prostitutes have, of course, highlighted their faces with the application of large quantities of make-up. The European tradition of whitening the face and body – seen to spectacular effect on the naked woman’s arms and legs – had a long history. Whitewashes and powders were extremely popular for achieving this porcelain effect. Until the nineteenth century, lead poisoning was a common side effect of whitening ingredients, but by the 1890s French chalk, pearl white and talc were favoured. A contemporary publication on beauty and cosmetics recommends that women:

Wrap a pellet of chalk in coarse linen and crush it in water, grinding it well with the fingers. Wash the face quickly with the squeezed pellet, and the wet powder oozing through the linen will leave a fine pure deposit of chalk upon the skin.[1]

The dark-haired woman has accentuated her features by blackening her brows and eyes, probably with Chinese ink and rose water. Above her eyes and along her cheek contours she has applied pigments, possibly from the first modern make-up palette, ‘Chinese boxes of colour’,[2] and carmine for rouge. Lautrec has picked out both women’s lips in a brilliant and unnatural red. While Parisian women used some of these cosmetic effects in a more subtle way, lipstick remained the preserve of the harlot until well after the turn of the century. Heavy make-up was rare at this time, but the example set by stage actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, who wore heavy make-up on and off the stage, blurred the line between prostitutes and other women.

SM

 

[1] Beauty: Its attainment and preservation, quoted in Richard Corson, Fashions in makeup: From ancient to modern times, London: Peter Owen, 1972, p. 376.

[2] Fenja Gunn, The artificial face: A history of cosmetics, Melbourne: Wren, 1973, p. 130.

Of the large number of paintings and drawings that Lautrec made of brothels, only rarely did he include naked prostitutes. In Woman pulling on her stocking (Prostitute) [Femme tirant son bas (Femme de maison)] he juxtaposes a fully clothed woman on the left, wearing the typical loose robe worn by many of Lautrec’s prostitutes, beside the more prominent and barely dressed figure on the right, who wears only a green scarf and black stockings. The artist captures her adjusting her garter.

From the mid nineteenth century, when hemlines were slightly raised and women’s ankles were seen for the first time, stockings changed from the traditional white to extremely colourful. By the end of the century fashion had shifted again and utilitarian black hosiery became the norm. Stockings were usually held up by suspenders attached either to a belt or to the hem of a short shift. In this painting Lautrec shows the woman in the more sexually provocative, but rather old-fashioned garters, tied above the knee, but wont to slip down unexpectedly.

Woman pulling on her stocking is dominated by the artist’s use of green, with just a hint of pink scarf and red on the lips of the women. According to Symbolist colour theory, of which Lautrec would have been aware, this combination of colours created a sexual atmosphere. Coupled with the woman’s nudity, one might expect a rather erotic scene. However, the less than provocative stance of the women counters any such reading of the painting. Lautrec takes a similar approach in his series on prostitutes having health checks, with their skirts gathered up around their waists. Despite their nakedness, those women, too, look remarkably undesirable.

Lautrec emphasises the facial features of both women – one sharp featured, the other broad and rather flat. Both prostitutes have, of course, highlighted their faces with the application of large quantities of make-up. The European tradition of whitening the face and body – seen to spectacular effect on the naked woman’s arms and legs – had a long history. Whitewashes and powders were extremely popular for achieving this porcelain effect. Until the nineteenth century, lead poisoning was a common side effect of whitening ingredients, but by the 1890s French chalk, pearl white and talc were favoured. A contemporary publication on beauty and cosmetics recommends that women:

Wrap a pellet of chalk in coarse linen and crush it in water, grinding it well with the fingers. Wash the face quickly with the squeezed pellet, and the wet powder oozing through the linen will leave a fine pure deposit of chalk upon the skin.[1]

The dark-haired woman has accentuated her features by blackening her brows and eyes, probably with Chinese ink and rose water. Above her eyes and along her cheek contours she has applied pigments, possibly from the first modern make-up palette, ‘Chinese boxes of colour’,[2] and carmine for rouge. Lautrec has picked out both women’s lips in a brilliant and unnatural red. While Parisian women used some of these cosmetic effects in a more subtle way, lipstick remained the preserve of the harlot until well after the turn of the century. Heavy make-up was rare at this time, but the example set by stage actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, who wore heavy make-up on and off the stage, blurred the line between prostitutes and other women.

SM

 

[1] Beauty: Its attainment and preservation, quoted in Richard Corson, Fashions in makeup: From ancient to modern times, London: Peter Owen, 1972, p. 376.

[2] Fenja Gunn, The artificial face: A history of cosmetics, Melbourne: Wren, 1973, p. 130.

Of the large number of paintings and drawings that Lautrec made of brothels, only rarely did he include naked prostitutes. In Woman pulling on her stocking (Prostitute) [Femme tirant son bas (Femme de maison)] he juxtaposes a fully clothed woman on the left, wearing the typical loose robe worn by many of Lautrec’s prostitutes, beside the more prominent and barely dressed figure on the right, who wears only a green scarf and black stockings. The artist captures her adjusting her garter.

From the mid nineteenth century, when hemlines were slightly raised and women’s ankles were seen for the first time, stockings changed from the traditional white to extremely colourful. By the end of the century fashion had shifted again and utilitarian black hosiery became the norm. Stockings were usually held up by suspenders attached either to a belt or to the hem of a short shift. In this painting Lautrec shows the woman in the more sexually provocative, but rather old-fashioned garters, tied above the knee, but wont to slip down unexpectedly.

Woman pulling on her stocking is dominated by the artist’s use of green, with just a hint of pink scarf and red on the lips of the women. According to Symbolist colour theory, of which Lautrec would have been aware, this combination of colours created a sexual atmosphere. Coupled with the woman’s nudity, one might expect a rather erotic scene. However, the less than provocative stance of the women counters any such reading of the painting. Lautrec takes a similar approach in his series on prostitutes having health checks, with their skirts gathered up around their waists. Despite their nakedness, those women, too, look remarkably undesirable.

Lautrec emphasises the facial features of both women – one sharp featured, the other broad and rather flat. Both prostitutes have, of course, highlighted their faces with the application of large quantities of make-up. The European tradition of whitening the face and body – seen to spectacular effect on the naked woman’s arms and legs – had a long history. Whitewashes and powders were extremely popular for achieving this porcelain effect. Until the nineteenth century, lead poisoning was a common side effect of whitening ingredients, but by the 1890s French chalk, pearl white and talc were favoured. A contemporary publication on beauty and cosmetics recommends that women:

Wrap a pellet of chalk in coarse linen and crush it in water, grinding it well with the fingers. Wash the face quickly with the squeezed pellet, and the wet powder oozing through the linen will leave a fine pure deposit of chalk upon the skin.[1]

The dark-haired woman has accentuated her features by blackening her brows and eyes, probably with Chinese ink and rose water. Above her eyes and along her cheek contours she has applied pigments, possibly from the first modern make-up palette, ‘Chinese boxes of colour’,[2] and carmine for rouge. Lautrec has picked out both women’s lips in a brilliant and unnatural red. While Parisian women used some of these cosmetic effects in a more subtle way, lipstick remained the preserve of the harlot until well after the turn of the century. Heavy make-up was rare at this time, but the example set by stage actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, who wore heavy make-up on and off the stage, blurred the line between prostitutes and other women.

SM

 

[1] Beauty: Its attainment and preservation, quoted in Richard Corson, Fashions in makeup: From ancient to modern times, London: Peter Owen, 1972, p. 376.

[2] Fenja Gunn, The artificial face: A history of cosmetics, Melbourne: Wren, 1973, p. 130.




Image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue entering the Moulin Rouge [La Goulue entrant au Moulin Rouge] 1892
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Mrs David M. Levy