Young woman at a table, 'Poudre de riz'

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec1887

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, Netherlands

This painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec shows a young woman seated at a table, a red jar in front of her. She looks directly at the viewer. It is difficult to identify exactly where the scene takes place. Is it a café or other public place, or a room in a house? The dark green patches at the upper right could be a painting, or perhaps a window. The woman’s role and identity is also unclear: is she a model posing for the painter, or has he depicted a real situation from memory?

The work belongs to Toulouse-Lautrec’s early period, when he was strongly influenced by Impressionism. The artist has built up his canvas in short, colorful stokes; these loose dots were meant to merge in the viewer’s eye, forming coherent areas of color. The artist also made numerous drawings at this period, many of which are more sketchy in character.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a good friend of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh saw Poudre de riz shortly before he left Paris for Arles. His brother Theo had bought the painting for his private collection. Vincent regarded it as typical illustration of Parisian life; for him it was a café scene and he described it as ‘a woman with her elbows on a café table.’

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