Frontispiece of the series Elles
1896, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 - 1901)
lithograph in three colours on wove paper,
52.2 cm x 40.4 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
The print series Elles shows scenes from Parisian maisons closes – brothels tolerated and inspected by the French state. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor, and even lodged in them at times. His series of prints explores the daily life of the prostitutes.
We see the women in their private rooms, sleeping, eating breakfast, washing or waiting for clients. By modern standards, these intimate scenes do not have an explicitly erotic character, but prints like this were considered scandalous and immoral in Lautrec’s time.
Lithography was an immensely popular technique among nineteenth-century artists, and it is clear from this series that Lautrec was a master of it. Some of his lithographs comprise large expanses of colour and leap from the paper. In others, he used a single colour, building up the image purely from subtle lines. He also made use of the crachis or spatter technique. The exclusive character of this famous series is emphasized by the deluxe paper on which it has been printed and by the limited print run.