Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
(Albi, 1864-1901, Ch. de Malromé, Gironde)
The Two Friends, 1895
Gouache on cardboard, 64.5 x 84 cm
Signed lower right: HTLautrec
Dortu P. 602
Lautrec at the age of fourteen, after his crippling accident, which rendered normal growth impossible, was no longer regarded as socially acceptable by his selfish, hard father, the Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, and he found himself driven, as a budding artist, into the arms of social outsiders, ending up with dire consequence in the brothels. He felt that he had a common destiny with their inmates, and only this explains the fact that, though he could be merciless with his models, here he shied away from any sort of caricature, which might seem to be indicated, and depicted the women of the houses in the Rue d’Amboise and the Rue des Moulins with unwonted tenderness, as if they were his sisters. Not that he ceased to be the sharp observer, but the consummate draughtsman does not pass judgement, does not condemn; he reports on a world that is in a certain sense his world as well. The underlying mood of these paintings is a quiet resignation and profound melancholy, which only alcohol can transmute into loud gaiety; this is the fundamental mood of Lautrec’s life. Only the colourist scourges the depravity of this world with his morbid colours – here the washed-out red of the skirt and the fading greyish-violet of the blouse. The undated picture of the two women friends, for which Dortu gives 1895, is closely related to two other paintings on the same theme.