2008.487.120 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Skating/Professional Beauty, ca. 1890, photomechanical print
Author: Kylie Thornburg
In Skating, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captures a fleeting glimps of Parisians enjoying a leisure time hobby in a new indoor ice rink. Toulouse-Lautrec’s works often center around women, and he was captivated by lively scenes found in skating rinks, theatres, and cafes.
He created Skating during the Belle Epoque, a prosperous period during which the upper class thrived and more Parisians had increased free time. Greater leisure time fostered participation in relaxing activities. Sports became a social bonding experience as well as a stimulant for conversation among different groups of people. Ice skating, in particular, quickly became a fashionable pastime during this period, and was fairly unusual in that men and women could participate together. The uptick in popularity can be attributed in part to the opening of indoor rinks in the early 1890s: the Pole Nord (North Pole), at the Porte de Clichy, and the Rond Point des Champs Elysees.
With more women participating in sports, fashion had to adapt to fit the active lives women were adopting. This print portrays an indoor ice skating rink with a striking, blonde woman as the main figure, who captivates viewers with her prominent jaw, dramatic coat collar, and extravagant hat. Cinched waists of the women’s coats and the striking hats were both popular fashion trends during the Belle Epoque. The man with the orange beard gazes directly at the blonde woman, which signifies that women dressed to be seen. Many women used public spaces to gain attention from others and to escape the strict confinements they often experienced in private.
The evolution of fashion closely paralleled the evolution of women’s rights. Women began to abandon the corset in favor of loose fitting and practical clothing, which allowed them to participate more freely in sports. By participating in sports and experimenting with new fashion styles, women became more integrated into the public sphere than ever before. In this print, however, the female skater’s sartorial choices lean more towards extravagant display rather than practicality. Toulouse-Lautrec suggests that the female skater intends to see and be seen in this open leisure space.