Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC | Place Pigalle

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
France 1864 – 1901

Place Pigalle [also known as Sescau the photographer [Le photographe Sescau]] 1896 brush, crayon and spatter lithograph, printed in five colours on mounted on canvas
61.1 (h) x 80.0 (w) cm
Reference: Wittrock P22 Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1945

Place Pigalle was commissioned by one of Lautrec’s close friends and drinking partners – the photographer Paul Sescau, who had a studio at 9 place Pigalle. Sescau was notorious for inviting young ladies to his studio under the guise of having their portraits taken, and then he would attempt to seduce them.

Lautrec used this well-known story as the main thrust of this advertising poster. The cartoon-like figure of his friend, face hidden under the cloth, points the lens at a well-dressed woman who appears to be hurrying away, her right arm cropped out of the composition. The woman is dressed for a ball, with a yellow mask concealing the upper portion of her face.[1] Lautrec uses a variety of patterning to capture the attention of prospective clients – an interesting spiral or question-mark motif on the woman’s dress, Sescau’s boldly checked trousers, and the yellow and orange stripes on the camera front.

The awkward poses, outrageous outfits, time spent sitting absolutely still, often clamped to a chair, and the bulky camera itself made photography an excellent target for the leading caricaturists of the day, such as Honoré Daumier. In Place Pigalle Lautrec similarly pokes fun at many elements of the medium. The photographer’s legs are shown spread, mimicking the poles of the tripod, a cord dangles phallically between his legs, and the model is extravagantly dressed.

Photographic portraits became increasingly popular in Paris following the invention of the medium in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. By the late 1890s, with the advent of the glass plate, the process had become much quicker and easier for the sitter. This lead to a burgeoning of photographic studios across the capital. A craze for photographic portraits of famous stars developed, which almost drove engraving studios out of business. In his 1872 novel, La Curée, Emile Zola described this fashionable trend:

[Maxime] carried portraits of actresses in every pocket. He even had one in his cigarette case. From time to time he cleared them all out and moved the ladies into an album which he left lying around the drawing room …[2]

Not everyone was pleased by this latest fad; Charles Baudelaire published a damning assault on photography and its supporters:

From this moment on, society, like a solitary Narcissus, dashed headlong to contemplate its trivial image on metal. Folly and extraordinary fanaticism gripped these new sun-worshippers.[3]

Lautrec was one of those much taken with the new medium and he and his friends, even his father, often dressed up and were photographed in costumes and in theatrical poses. Many of Sescau’s portraits of Lautrec, however, are quite formal.[4]

SM

 

[1] While this version of the poster shows the woman with a mask, in a second and more common version the mask is replaced by a lock of yellow hair hanging across her forehead. See no. 22, in Wolfgang Wittrock, Toulouse-Lautrec: The complete prints, London:
P. Wilson Publishers, 1985, pp. 800–801.

[2] Quoted in Jean Sagne, ‘All kinds of portraits: The photographer’s studio’, in Michel Frizot (ed.), A new history of photography, Cologne: Könemann, 1998,
p. 106.

[3] C. Baudelaire, ‘Le public moderne et la photographie’, quoted in Sagne, p. 111.

[4] Lautrec often used Sescau to document his paintings, and photograph favourite models.

Place Pigalle was commissioned by one of Lautrec’s close friends and drinking partners – the photographer Paul Sescau, who had a studio at 9 place Pigalle. Sescau was notorious for inviting young ladies to his studio under the guise of having their portraits taken, and then he would attempt to seduce them.

Lautrec used this well-known story as the main thrust of this advertising poster. The cartoon-like figure of his friend, face hidden under the cloth, points the lens at a well-dressed woman who appears to be hurrying away, her right arm cropped out of the composition. The woman is dressed for a ball, with a yellow mask concealing the upper portion of her face.[1] Lautrec uses a variety of patterning to capture the attention of prospective clients – an interesting spiral or question-mark motif on the woman’s dress, Sescau’s boldly checked trousers, and the yellow and orange stripes on the camera front.

The awkward poses, outrageous outfits, time spent sitting absolutely still, often clamped to a chair, and the bulky camera itself made photography an excellent target for the leading caricaturists of the day, such as Honoré Daumier. In Place Pigalle Lautrec similarly pokes fun at many elements of the medium. The photographer’s legs are shown spread, mimicking the poles of the tripod, a cord dangles phallically between his legs, and the model is extravagantly dressed.

Photographic portraits became increasingly popular in Paris following the invention of the medium in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. By the late 1890s, with the advent of the glass plate, the process had become much quicker and easier for the sitter. This lead to a burgeoning of photographic studios across the capital. A craze for photographic portraits of famous stars developed, which almost drove engraving studios out of business. In his 1872 novel, La Curée, Emile Zola described this fashionable trend:

[Maxime] carried portraits of actresses in every pocket. He even had one in his cigarette case. From time to time he cleared them all out and moved the ladies into an album which he left lying around the drawing room …[2]

Not everyone was pleased by this latest fad; Charles Baudelaire published a damning assault on photography and its supporters:

From this moment on, society, like a solitary Narcissus, dashed headlong to contemplate its trivial image on metal. Folly and extraordinary fanaticism gripped these new sun-worshippers.[3]

Lautrec was one of those much taken with the new medium and he and his friends, even his father, often dressed up and were photographed in costumes and in theatrical poses. Many of Sescau’s portraits of Lautrec, however, are quite formal.[4]

SM

 

[1] While this version of the poster shows the woman with a mask, in a second and more common version the mask is replaced by a lock of yellow hair hanging across her forehead. See no. 22, in Wolfgang Wittrock, Toulouse-Lautrec: The complete prints, London:
P. Wilson Publishers, 1985, pp. 800–801.

[2] Quoted in Jean Sagne, ‘All kinds of portraits: The photographer’s studio’, in Michel Frizot (ed.), A new history of photography, Cologne: Könemann, 1998,
p. 106.

[3] C. Baudelaire, ‘Le public moderne et la photographie’, quoted in Sagne, p. 111.

[4] Lautrec often used Sescau to document his paintings, and photograph favourite models.

Place Pigalle was commissioned by one of Lautrec’s close friends and drinking partners – the photographer Paul Sescau, who had a studio at 9 place Pigalle. Sescau was notorious for inviting young ladies to his studio under the guise of having their portraits taken, and then he would attempt to seduce them.

Lautrec used this well-known story as the main thrust of this advertising poster. The cartoon-like figure of his friend, face hidden under the cloth, points the lens at a well-dressed woman who appears to be hurrying away, her right arm cropped out of the composition. The woman is dressed for a ball, with a yellow mask concealing the upper portion of her face.[1] Lautrec uses a variety of patterning to capture the attention of prospective clients – an interesting spiral or question-mark motif on the woman’s dress, Sescau’s boldly checked trousers, and the yellow and orange stripes on the camera front.

The awkward poses, outrageous outfits, time spent sitting absolutely still, often clamped to a chair, and the bulky camera itself made photography an excellent target for the leading caricaturists of the day, such as Honoré Daumier. In Place Pigalle Lautrec similarly pokes fun at many elements of the medium. The photographer’s legs are shown spread, mimicking the poles of the tripod, a cord dangles phallically between his legs, and the model is extravagantly dressed.

Photographic portraits became increasingly popular in Paris following the invention of the medium in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. By the late 1890s, with the advent of the glass plate, the process had become much quicker and easier for the sitter. This lead to a burgeoning of photographic studios across the capital. A craze for photographic portraits of famous stars developed, which almost drove engraving studios out of business. In his 1872 novel, La Curée, Emile Zola described this fashionable trend:

[Maxime] carried portraits of actresses in every pocket. He even had one in his cigarette case. From time to time he cleared them all out and moved the ladies into an album which he left lying around the drawing room …[2]

Not everyone was pleased by this latest fad; Charles Baudelaire published a damning assault on photography and its supporters:

From this moment on, society, like a solitary Narcissus, dashed headlong to contemplate its trivial image on metal. Folly and extraordinary fanaticism gripped these new sun-worshippers.[3]

Lautrec was one of those much taken with the new medium and he and his friends, even his father, often dressed up and were photographed in costumes and in theatrical poses. Many of Sescau’s portraits of Lautrec, however, are quite formal.[4]

SM

 

[1] While this version of the poster shows the woman with a mask, in a second and more common version the mask is replaced by a lock of yellow hair hanging across her forehead. See no. 22, in Wolfgang Wittrock, Toulouse-Lautrec: The complete prints, London:
P. Wilson Publishers, 1985, pp. 800–801.

[2] Quoted in Jean Sagne, ‘All kinds of portraits: The photographer’s studio’, in Michel Frizot (ed.), A new history of photography, Cologne: Könemann, 1998,
p. 106.

[3] C. Baudelaire, ‘Le public moderne et la photographie’, quoted in Sagne, p. 111.

[4] Lautrec often used Sescau to document his paintings, and photograph favourite models.




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