Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec / France 1864–1901 / Tête de fille (Head of a girl) 1892 / Oil on canvas / 27.3 x 23cm (oval) / Purchased 1959 with funds donated by Major Harold de Vahl Rubin / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Tete de fille (Head of a girl) 1892

Not Currently on Display

This work is one of 16 medallion (oval-shaped) portraits of filles de maison (prostitutes) that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted in 1892 for a maison close (brothel) on the Rue d’Amboise in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec was an astute observer of life and a talented drafter — skills he used in the cafes and concert halls of Montmartre.

Prostitutes and brothels were subjects explored by many artists, including Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, in the late nineteenth century. Both were features of the Parisian nightlife, together with cafe concerts, musicians, circuses, cabarets and performers. Toulouse-Lautrec’s artworks featuring prostitutes tended to be sensitive, intimate and compassionate depictions.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born at Albi in the south of France to an aristocratic family. From early adolescence, he developed a growth dysfunction. Moving to Paris in 1882, he studied in the studios of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon.

His career coincided with the emergence of modern printmaking and poster production, as well as the emergence of Parisian nightlife and entertainment. He worked en plein air in the manner of the Impressionists, but rather than depicting the landscape, he was drawn to the demi-monde (people on the fringes of so-called respectable society) of Parisian nightlife, cafes, the racetrack and the circus.

He found his subjects in the fleeting crowds of cafe concerts, the entertainers and prostitutes of Montmartre and the urban spectacle of Paris. In a brief and brilliant career of just over a decade, he produced some of the best-known images of Paris in the form of lithographic posters and prints.