Interiority Complex: The Intimacy of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Elles
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Nineteenth-century Paris witnessed a proliferation of representations of prostitution, including extensive visual imagery of women of ill repute. Completed in 1896 and comprised of a cover, frontispiece and ten colour lithographs, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Elles series observes fin-de-siècle brothel sex workers in intimate moments of daily ritual: brushing their hair, adjusting their corsets, lounging in bed. The series is outstanding in both subject matter and medium; female prostitutes are presented not in relation to their work but in private moments of solitude and Lautrec deliberately chose to illustrate these moments within the intimate pages of a print portfolio. This thesis is the first study dedicated entirely to Elles, which is often overlooked in art historical literature. Lautrec monumentalizes sex workers by treating them as subjects rather than objects, in contrast to conventional visual tropes on the topic of commercial sexuality. By contextualizing the series in relation to nineteenth-century prostitution and print culture I provide a thorough visual analysis of Elles and consider the reasoning for the album’s commercial failure. To understand the way in which Lautrec used brothel workers to present the binary notion of intimacy as both sensual and private, this study includes analysis of the rise of colour lithography and the personal viewing experience of the print portfolio; the way in which the women in Elles are captured seemingly enjoying intimate moments within the private chambers of a public brothel; the dichotomous nature of the brothel as an interior that is inherently both public and private; and bourgeois ideals of domestic interiors and the notion of collecting as a private pursuit. Lautrec’s unconventional treatment of late nineteenth-century prostitution engages interiority and intimacy and Elles’s combined medium and subject matter make it a distinctly modern body of work. Ultimately, this thesis evaluates what it means to create a print portfolio on the theme of prostitution.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/23795
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