La Demoiselle de Cabaret, The Lady of the Cabaret

circa 1870-1890

Medium: oil on panel

W 29.3 × H 39.5 cm


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This painting depicts La Demoiselle de Cabaret (The Lady of the Cabaret), by a French School of the late-nineteenth century, where a dancer comes to the end of her performance whilst standing before her audience. The subject epitomises an interest that was affiliated with artists of this period, who derived a significant portion of their inspiration from ladies of the emerging modern-day lifestyle. As we see here, the demoiselle is on the fringes of the city’s twilight, whilst she and her audience encapsulate the sophisticated pleasures of the new modern life defined by Paris. 

The milieu of these paintings became popularised during the Second Empire of France (1851-70) when the subject of a lady became an overtly symbolic reference to Parisian modern life. This was captured by an outpouring of French artists and writers such as Edgar Degas, Manet and Charles Baudelaire. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was exceptionally inspired by the fashionable nightlife, as he frequented Paris’ café-cabaret’s and would sketch the entertaining figures of the night, which can be seen in the following images. The earlier style of Lautrec was derived from the Impressionists, whilst he developed his own innovative manner to be more free and fluid. It is not just the technique, but the affiliation with this subject that feels reminiscent of the portrait at present.

One may infer from the varied brushwork, of dots, short lines, and finer thick strokes, that there has been a quick and rather free technique applied to the painting. The lady wears high Parisian fashion; a black evening dress highlighted by decorative floral elements. Whilst thick pink blushes of impasto lay on the floor before her, implying flowers that may have fallen mid-show. She stands before a curtain, with the word “Encore” inscribed in the top left, which is an element that emphasises the performance offered to the Parisian nightlife. 

Provenance: A., Baird-Carter, St. James, London.
Private Collection, UK.
Baudelaire, C., Le peintre de la vie Moderne, 1863 (ed. Jonathan Mayne, Phaidon Press, 1964).
Callen, A., Techniques of the Impressionists (Tiger Books International, London, 1988).
Clayson, H., Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era (J. Paul Getty Trust, 2003).
Bowlby, R., ‘Half Art’: Baudelaire’s Le Peintre de la vie moderne (Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

“The lover of life makes the whole world into his family […] just as the picture-lover lives in an enchanted world of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life moves into the crowd as though into an enormous reservoir of electricity” - Charles-Pierre Baudelaire, Le peintre de la vie Moderne, 1863.