Lautrec set out to document the lives of prostitutes in a series of pictures executed between 1892 and 1896. At first he made sketches in brothels, but he was apparently hampered by insufficient lighting and had his models pose in his studio. He appreciated the naturalness of sitters like this lesbian couple, "who stretch themselves out on the divans…entirely without pretensions." The candid image may take its cue from Degas’s monotypes of brothel scenes and erotic Japanese prints.
Inscription: Stamped (lower left): HTL [monogram]
[Robert Duplan, Paris]; Dr. Jacques Soubies, Paris (until 1928; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 14, 1928, no. 90, as "Le Sopha," for Fr 141,000 to Druet); [Druet, Paris; 1928]; Albert S. Henraux, Paris (1928–at least 1938); Chabert, Switzerland; [Wildenstein, New York, until 1951; sold to MMA]
Paris. Musée des Arts Décoratifs. "Exposition H. de Toulouse-Lautrec," April 9–May 17, 1931, no. 114 (as "Le Sopha," lent by Albert S. Henraux).
Brussels. Palais des Beaux-Arts. "L'Impressionnisme," June 15–September 29, 1935, no. 92 (lent by M. Henraux).
London. M. Knoedler & Co. "Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings and Drawings," January 19–February 2, 1938, no. 18 (lent by M. Albert S. Henraux, Paris).
Paris. M. Knoedler & Co. "Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864–1901," March 1938, no. 23 (lent by M. Albert S. Henraux).
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Toulouse-Lautrec," October 29–December 11, 1955, no. 49.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Toulouse-Lautrec," January 2–February 15, 1956, no. 49.
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings, Drawings, Posters, and Lithographs," March 20–May 6, 1956, no. 28.
New York. Wildenstein. "Toulouse-Lautrec," February 7–March 14, 1964, no. 37.
Albi. Palais de la Berbie. "Centenaire de Toulouse-Lautrec," June–September 1964, no. 56.
Paris. Petit Palais. "Centenaire de Toulouse-Lautrec," October–December 1964, no. 56.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 87).
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 74.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 74.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Toulouse-Lautrec," February 18–June 1, 1992, no. 139.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Toulouse-Lautrec in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," July 2–September 29, 1996, unnumbered cat. (fig. 58).
Denver Art Museum. "Toulouse-Lautrec from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," July 15–October 15, 1999, no catalogue.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920," February 4–May 6, 2007, no. 116.
Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19. Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.
Stockholm. Nationalmuseum. "Toulouse-Lautrec," February 21–May 25, 2008, no. 29.
Canberra. National Gallery of Australia. "Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge," December 14, 2012–April 2, 2013, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 138).
Paris. Musée d'Orsay, Gras Savoye. "Splendeurs et misères: Images de la prostitution, 1850–1910," September 22, 2015–January 17, 2016, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 140).
Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum, Dutch Indemnity. "Easy Virtue. Prostitution in French Art, 1850–1910," February 19–June 19, 2016, no. 10.
Exposition H. de Toulouse-Lautrec. Exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs. [Paris], 1931, p. 36, no. 114, states that it was no. 90 in the sale of Dr. Soubies on June 14, 1928.
Romain Coolus. "Souvenirs sur Toulouse-Lautrec." L'Amour de l'art 12 (April 1931), fig. 8, states that it has not been published previously.
M.-G. Dortu, Madeleine Grillaert, and Jean Adhémar. Toulouse-Lautrec en Belgique. Paris, 1955, p. 35, pl. 32 (installation photograph from Exh. Brussels 1935).
Maurice Rheims. "La cote des Lautrec." Toulouse-Lautrec. Paris, 1962, p. 224, states that Druet paid Fr 141,000 for it at the Soubies sale.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 204–5, ill., includes it in the group of pictures Toulouse-Lautrec made in brothels between 1892 and 1896, dating it between 1894 and 1896; remarks that the nearer figure appears in an oil sketch at Albi and that the same two women were models for a painting called "Rue des Moulins" in the Chester Dale collection.
M. G. Dortu. Toulouse-Lautrec et son œuvre. New York, 1971, vol. 1, ill. pp. 60 (installation photograph of Exh. Brussels 1935), 61 (installation photograph of Exh. Paris 1938); vol. 3, pp. 370–71, no. P.601, ill., dates it 1895.
G. M. Sugana inThe Complete Paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. London, 1973, p. 110, no. 368, ill., dates it 1894.
Naomi E. Maurer and Charles F. Stuckey inToulouse-Lautrec: Paintings. Ed. Charles F. Stuckey. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, , p. 252, fig. 4.
Charles S. Moffett. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 11, 238, ill. pp. 238–39 (color; overall and detail).
Gary Tinterow et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 8, Modern Europe. New York, 1987, p. 73, colorpl. 52.
MaryAnne Stevens inThe Passionate Eye: Impressionist and Other Master Paintings from the Collection of Emil G. Bührle, Zurich. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. Zürich, 1990, pp. 188, 242 n. 4, under no. 67.
Richard Thomson inToulouse-Lautrec. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London. New Haven, 1991, pp. 18, 410, 420, 432, 434, no. 139, ill. p. 433 (color), notes that even while depicting suspenseful, anticipatory, and suggestive scenes of sexuality featuring prostitutes, as lesbian couples, the artist still gives them traditional roles, representing one as "impassive and dominant, the other as submissive and adoring," adding that the male client is almost never seen; comments that the name of the model in the foreground is Gabrielle and illustrates many other compositions for which she modelled; calls it one of four paintings of lesbian couples that Toulouse-Lautrec made in mid-decade ("Femmes en repos," P.597, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden; "Les Deux Amis," P.602, Bührle collection, Zürich; and "Les deux amies," P.598, private collection), the first three of which are larger and share color, compositional, and size similarities; suggests that all explore moments of psychological nuance between the two women depicted and questions whether these scenes were observed or invented.
Gilles Néret. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864–1901. Ed. Ingo F. Walther. New York, 1995, pp. 136, 147, ill. (color) [German ed., 1994], dates it about 1894–95.
Colta Ives. Toulouse-Lautrec in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 23, 61, fig. 58.
Susan Alyson Stein inThe Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, pp. 156–57, 259, no. 116, ill. (color and black and white).
Susan Alyson Stein inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 186–87, 309, no. 173, ill. (color and black and white).
Rebecka Lennartsson inToulouse-Lautrec. Exh. cat., Nationalmuseum. Stockholm, 2008, pp. 90, 92, 184, no. 29, colorpl. 111.
Between 1892 and 1896, Toulouse-Lautrec made a series of paintings inspired by the women he met in the Parisian brothels. These women of the demi-monde felt comfortable being observed, and the artist invited them to pose in his studio on the dun-colored divan seen here. This is one of a group of four paintings of highly-charged sexuality depicting lesbian couples engaged in moments of psychological interaction. Three are of similar size, including this work, the "Femmes au repos" (Dortu P.597; Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), and "Les deux amies" (P.602; Bührle collection, Zürich). The fourth, "Les deux amies" (P.598; private collection), is slightly smaller.
According to Sterling and Salinger [see Ref. 1967], the nearer figure in this picture is used again in an oil sketch in the Musée d'Albi (P.554), and both women seem to reappear in a painting now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (P.557).