This young woman seated in a garden is thought to be a dancer and model who we know only as Gabrielle. She appears in two other pictures by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Although Toulouse-Lautrec worked mainly as a graphic artist and printmaker, and is perhaps best known for his posters advertising venues such as the Moulin Rouge, this oil painting on millboard shows the influence of Impressionism on his work. This is particularly evident in the loose brushwork of the clothing and foliage and in the way surfaces reflect light and colour from their environment.
Toulouse-Lautrec has made great use of outlines to create shapes, which were then filled in using a variety of brushstrokes. The use of line and the overall effect of decorative flatness show clear affinities with the posters the artist created in the 1890s and also with Art Nouveau, which was at its height at this time.
A young woman is seated in a garden. Although her upper body is turned slightly towards us, her face is in profile, and she does not engage with us. Her clothing is restrained, and her plain white blouse is fully buttoned up to her neck. Her expression, too, is subdued, as if she is preoccupied and her thoughts are elsewhere.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made a number of half-length plein air portraits of female friends, shop assistants and prostitutes. This half-length portrait was exhibited during his lifetime with the title Woman Seated in a Garden. The sitter is thought to be a dancer and model who we know only as Gabrielle. She appears in two other pictures by Toulouse-Lautrec. In one painting (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur), she is on the arm of Cha-U-Kao, an entertainer who performed at the Moulin Rouge and the Nouveau Cirque in the 1890s. In the other (Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi) she is alone. The garden, which Toulouse-Lautrec used for other portraits, was probably that of the retired photographer, Père Forest, who was Toulouse-Lautrec’s neighbour in Montmartre, an area in northern Paris known for its nightlife and bohemian locals.
Toulouse-Lautrec arrived in Paris to train as an artist in 1882, the year of the Seventh Impressionist exhibition. Although he worked mainly as a graphic artist and printmaker, and is perhaps best known for his posters advertising venues such as the Moulin Rouge, this oil painting on millboard shows the influence of Impressionism upon his work. This is particularly evident in the loose brushwork of the clothing and the foliage. Like the Impressionists, Toulouse-Lautrec is alert here to the play of light and to the way surfaces reflect light and colour from their environment. For example, the green tinge around Gabrielle’s throat and chin, together with the streaks of dark green in her jacket, echo the foliage behind her. The blue outline around her face gives definition to her profile and echoes the touches of blue in her clothing and background, integrating Gabrielle with her surroundings.
Although painted, this is almost a drawing in paint. Toulouse-Lautrec has made great use of outline, especially around Gabrielle, and for the trees and foliage. Outlined shapes have been filled in using a variety of brushstrokes, which range from short strokes (visible in the face) to long thin ribbons of paint (which can be seen in the jacket). The picture has little perspectival depth or volume. Instead, the use of line and the overall effect of decorative flatness show clear affinities not only with the posters Toulouse-Lautrec created in the 1890s but also with Art Nouveau, which was at its height at this time.
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