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Painting: Vincent van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1888, oil, canvas
Arguably the best portrait of van Gogh, as painted by an artist other than himself.
Lautrec was 23 and van Gogh 34 when this was painted.
Perhaps because of his own deformities, Lautrec was especially skilled in picking up slight nuances in a subject’s face or way of holding himself. Here he captures the inherent tenseness and anxiety which permeated van Gogh, even while he was relaxing with a friend. His body is leaning forward and his hands seem to be moving one over the other. The expression on his face is slightly tense, wary and watchful.
A glass of absinthe is in front of him. Both he and Lautrec drank it together, one after the other. Today we know that absinthe is no more dangerous than any other alcohol. Back then, it was considered the most dangerous alcoholic beverage.
Painting: Streetwalker, 1890-91, Toulouse-Lautrec, oil, cardboard
The prostitute Golden Helmet is the subject. The nickname refers to her hair. The sitting took place in the garden of Lautrec's neighbor in Montmartre.
Lautrec avoided fantasy with his subject matter. Rather, he accurately reflected the circumstances surrounding his subjects. Lautrec and van Gogh were among the first artists to paint working class people and prostitutes differently from the artists before them. The prior way of depicting them was as types of people. Lautrec and van Gogh painted them as individuals instead.
Many young women were drawn to Paris initially because they wanted to become stars like Jane Avril or La Goulue. When their hopes faded, they fell into prostitution instead. In the twentieth century, women would experience the same as they flocked to Hollywood instead.