Frontispiece for Elles – Art by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1896) 18.5″ x 23.25″ French Advertising Poster LB
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W, 155, 2nd state; A, 171-III; frontispiece; with letters.
The Elles collection is Lautrec’s famous brothel series, an edition of lithographs depicting prostitutes simply referred to as Elles (Them). This ambiguous title both recalls the common phrase ces dames (these ladies), and at the same time is the pronoun indicating all females. Although the women of the Elles series are prostitutes, they appear desexualized, shown in postures that emphasize the everyday and unglamorous nature of their occupation. In this instance, putting her hair back up after finishing with a client; the only indication that a man is even in the room is his top hat resting gingerly on her bed. It was the pictorial epilogue to what the artist had experienced in the maisons closes of the rue des Moulins, the rue d’Amboise, and the rue Joubert. ‘They’ are ‘women to my liking,’ as he used to say cynically, and he often lived with them for weeks at a time during the years 1892 to 1895, a constant witness of their daily lives, of their suffering and intimacy.
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