2008.487.143a HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
Le Plaisir á Paris: Les Bals et le Carnaval (Pleasures in Paris: Balls and Carnivals), 1894
Photomechanical print, 16.625 x 12.75 in.
Author: Madison Lee
A crowded room with elite men and women dressed in the finest fashions of Paris fill the entire space of this magazine page. The eye pulls to the center, where a man gazes out at the audience, inviting us into the party. With the rise of the bourgeois class at the end of the nineteenth century, there was money to be spent for luxuries such as alcohol, fancy evening gowns, and nightclubs. These revelers could afford to enjoy themselves, leading to a demand for entertainment and nightlife. Parisian nightlife at this time centered around music, dancing, and shows. Cabaret became a major form of entertainment and often such places served alcohol.
Toulouse-Lautrec captures the party scene well. The sketch-like quality of this print creates a sense of mystery and fluidity. Loosely drawn lines of clothing and a drinking glass bring a degree of dynamism to the scene. The color, tone, and light of Pleasures in Paris: Balls and Carnivals indicate the room is not brightly lit; not everything that goes on in this scene will be visible. The viewer may imagine attending the party but not getting quite close enough to truly experience it.
Toulouse-Lautrec was up to date on the fashion and hairstyles of the time, knowledge which he displays here. Women’s evening dress of the time consisted of a fitted bodice with a scooped or square neckline, puffy sleeves, and a full-length skirt. Gowns were made of fabrics ranging from velvet to silk chiffon. Hair of the time was pulled up into a bun and often had feathers or small ornaments. The woman in the front right of the piece has her hair down and dons a sleeveless dress, something considered scandalous at the time due to the normal modesty of nineteenth century French fashion and hairstyles. In this party atmosphere, however, it is not surprising to see something scandalous. At parties or social events, women often wore dresses that revealed their shoulders, arms, and chests. These body parts were extravagantly put on display for people, mostly men, to see. Men’s evening dress consisted of a black tail coat, white formal shirts, vests, and bow ties. Heavy mustaches and optional beards comprised men’s hairstyles of the time.
Though it is not apparent in Pleasures in Paris: Balls and Carnivals, Toulouse-Lautrec had a more melancholic view of modernism. In his other works he often hints at the subdued aspects of the nightlife in Paris, shedding a more realistic light on Parisian’s lives. In this piece, however, it appears to be all fun and games, luring in the viewer.
Height: 16.625 in
Width: 12.75 in
Note: Mat: 24"h x 20"w
One side has an image of people at a party that includes a man with monocle on balcony and people in masks. Text bottom right corner. Other side has three images of women. Upper right is two women, one touching the others collar. Bottom is a single woman with a fruit basket. Text in between the images.