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Au bal des étudiants (At the students’ ball)

His last poster is Au bal des étudiants, «Composition inédite de Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec». Even though he was making his drawings into lithographs, he did not have time to do it: he spent the winter of 1900-1901, ill, in Bordeaux. Local art dealer and framer Imberti lent the artist a studio where he lived from October to April. In this studio, he painted portraits and made some drawings, including this composition. This was the last creation of the painter printmaker. It is drawn with colour pencils, as he did after his stay in a psychiatric institution in 1899, and the image is applied to the stone with crayon (except the colours). As it is often the case, emphasis is given to one person and this is increased by the fact that Toulouse-Lautrec made the draft of the work only. An elegantly dressed couple goes to the ball but the first look of the spectator grabs only the masked lady and in particular her big breasts that the deep décolleté of her dress leaves naked. Then the eye goes into the details of her dress and then into the guy who accompanies her. While he is only sketched with the hat, the tailcoat and the waistcoat, the tall collar and the gloves, which form the traditional costume for nightlife in social events, at the end of the 19th century, his face stands out with the red colour. Like being drunk, he walks with the wide smile of complacency. Let’s notice that the faces drawn by Toulouse-Lautrec look like caricatures, just like the face of the disheveled student – typically a bohemian figure – disguised himself as a clown, and that of the rich man on the right. Disfigured and hard characteristics, intense life with a lot of movement make the poster highly expressive. At the end, the eye reaches the background where the orchestra with its conductor appears. The poster is an interesting evidence of the social life of the “Belle époque” in France (at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, before World War I). It also evidences the stern look of the resentful, alcoholic and very sick artist… while collectors detach for themselves his works from the Parisian walls.

François Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901)
(from a drawing by), Αnonymous 19th – 20th century)
Au bal des étudiants (At the students’ ball)
colour lithograph – 1900
Image and sheet: 60.5 cm x 50.4 cm
French school
No 929 – Αcquisition 2011