Eighty-six

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The Two Friends

1894 by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
The National Gallery

Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Two Friends retains his distinctive style – lines sketching – but addresses the seriousness of friends’ intimacy; a more sombre image than many of his other paintings, certainly Seule (postcard forty-three). A friend consoles another, capturing the moment of confidence, or perhaps just empathy, but there is an acute feeling of emotion, almost painful, in the faces of the two figures. The sitting figure’s face is crumpled, staring into depressive nothingness, while the friend looks down upon her, face serene, skin contrastingly smoothly pale, in sympathy. Her role is a protective one; her arm reaching across, positioned protectively higher, while the other sits childlike, slumped, wrapped in a blanket. Toulouse-Lautrec retains his free-hand style despite working in oil; lines articulate sketch-like, and colour fills in and highlights in blocks – restrained in palette, translucent as chalk in places, apart from the floor that glows violently red. This red perhaps reflects the underlying reality of the situation, a warning; the two women were most probably prostitutes, as Toulouse-Lautrec frequently used them as models. Despite this, the image remains predominantly soft, almost organically formed in its style, encouraged by the grain of background in the board allowing for the lack of blocked out colour. The painting grows gently from its lines, the only completely shaded subjects are the figures themselves; softly the centre of attention, in juxtaposing pale pink and white, in the intensity of the surrounding room.

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