1896 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
A different approach to painting women crept in during the late nineteenth-century — one with an aim of showing them differently, quietly, behind the scenes. Seule was painted the same year as Degas’s postcard forty-two and, though the works are quite different, both show the changing and watchful eyes of the two artists. In both works the figures are individually absorbed, unaware – though, more than this, they are disregarding of any presence around them; they are independently satisfied, Seule meaning only. Of course Seule is darker, sexually charged, lacking the innocence of Degas’s bright, almost childish, red. Colour in Seule is almost absent, encouraged by the medium and background, but deliberate in the sparse but highly articulate lines in unobtrusive black and white. It is with one line that Toulouse-Lautrec guides our view of the central figure; drawing angles of nose and chin, moving down to cast the lithe slight body, pausing to explore the contours of the slender, rather beautiful, hand, before ending to elongate dangling bony legs. The empowered expression of the line is then reflecting across the composition: it echoes in the fall of the sheets, repeats itself in shading, tying composition and figure together; she is spread in lines across the bed, her left arm melts into the linen it lies on. Shading and the changing tones of impressionist light seem unimportant here – as in Degas, which relied on block-like colour rather than the painterly pattern of brush strokes. Style seems to echo the honestly of the portrayal, though Toulouse-Lautrec is certainly more daringly sexually, with elegant clinging lines that spread downward on an open thigh.