La Blanchisseuse (Toulouse-Lautrec)
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|Artist||Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec|
|Type||Oil paint on canvas|
|Dimensions||93 by 75 centimetres (37 in × 30 in)|
La Blanchisseuse (French: [la blɑ̃ʃisøz], The Laundress) is an 1886 painting by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In November 2005 it was sold for 22.4 million dollars at auction by Christie's.
La Blanchisseuse was painted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and posed for by the meek, respectable prostitute Carmen Gaudin in 1886. This oil on canvas painting showcases the gritty life and working conditions that the lower class had to suffer through during the 19th century. The painting was in storage until 2005, when an anonymous buyer acquired it for 22 million dollars, breaking the record for his most expensive sold painting at an auction. Although this artwork has not had a massive cultural impact, to this day it portrays a peek of what the daily life of the working-class in Europe was like.
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec was a product of incest and aristocrats, causing his early life to be pompous as well as brought about irreversible deformity. He fractured his right femur at the age of 13, and his left at the age of 14. This caused him to be unable to participate in the usual activities of men his age, so he took up an interest in art and illustrations. His legs never grew properly after that, producing a 4 ft 8in adult. Despite his handicap and shortness of his career totaling only 20 years, he created 737 canvassed paintings, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters for the Moulin Rouge and a number of carnivals, 5,084 drawings, and an unknown number of lost works throughout his career. His life was short and tragic due to his alcoholism. He died at the age of 36. In spite of his life lived unloved and a career cut short, he made a name for himself among the great post-impressionist artists.
The subject of the painting, Carmen Gaudin, was a dignified, humble prostitute who caught Lautrec's eye one day after class. He wrote to his mother about how he met a girl with golden hair. Instantly, he became interested in her and she quickly became one of his favorite models. Carmen helped him with his art studies as he was unsure of his capabilities at the time since he was only 23 years old. One day, Carmen posed for La Blanchisseuse. The artwork was popular amongst his friends and his mentor, Fernand Cormon. The painting remained relatively private until years after his death when his artworks were displayed.
This piece shows the longing of the subject for something more, as many laundresses were prostitutes at night for extra money. La Blanchisseuse depicts how hard life was for working-class women. Despite its lack of immediate fame, the artwork has gathered interest from many artists as well as historians for its artistic and historical value.