Cover for Elles, 1896

Woman washing herself, 1896

Woman in Mirror, Mirror in Hand, 1896

The Sets of Everyday Life

Prostitutes were a major part of the Parisian entertainment economy and Lautrec’s depictions of everyday life for these women are devoid of sentimentality, but still contain a sense of vulnerability and humanity.

A key part of the Parisian entertainment industry
The brothels were a key part of the Parisian entertainment industry. They represented an ambiguous urban space. On the one hand the brothels were part of the public space, which was usually the man’s domain – a public place pretending to be private. On the other hand the brothels also served as the setting for the private lives of “public” women.

The encounter between male fantasy and female reality
The album Elles shows prostitutes in intimate situations. The women are introverted, seemingly unaware of the presence of an observer. Even so, the images teem with narrative.  The fleetingly, yet accurately outlined interiors, featuring elements such as a man’s hat on a table or a symbol of love on the wall, give visible form to the encounter between male fantasy and female reality.

Lonely and exposed
In Lautrec’s late interpretations of the prostitutes, damnation emerges as the flip side of intimacy. Here he depicts the prostitutes outside the brothel setting, causing them to appear more lonely and exposed; for example by showing them sitting in a row, pressed up against a wall.

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