I gazed into the small framed print for a few minutes wondering if I should spend money on something I didn’t need. I was after all, at the thrift shop and had already chosen several items from the art room.
I almost put the picture back, but I looked at it again. I wondered what had drawn me to it. There wasn’t anything that especially stood out to justify the purchase, albeit a modest one, except that I really liked it. I decided that was enough.
As I write, over a year later, I remain captured by the woman in the picture.
Sometimes I take the picture down to take a closer look. I want to understand what I feel when I look at Rosa.
She’s mysterious and I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder where she is and where she’s going. I wonder if she’s happy or content. I think she has something on her mind. More than that, I think she has a difficult life. I’m rather delighted that this image evokes so many questions!
My sister came to visit me one day and remarked about the picture. “She looks just like you,” she said. “Exactly.”
I hadn’t thought about it, but oddly, I wasn’t especially surprised. Looking again I saw a resemblance, but not as much as my sister saw. It’s rather a feeling than her physical features that I relate to.
Rosa la Rouge was a French washerwoman; a laundress, which wasn’t an easy life. They had a reputation of also being prostitutes. Having learned that Rosa was likely a French prostitute evoked more curiosity about what I feel when I look at her portrait.
My first impression of Rosa made me think of a woman living the life of a poor share cropper’s wife. I saw a woman trapped in a life of obligation.
Perhaps it is a certain loneliness in her that I see. An alienation from the world of nine-to-fivers; the regular people who get up at the same time and go to the same place every day. Regular people with regular jobs and regular relationships.
I imagine being a prostitute would call one to abandon, at least temporarily, a part of herself.
So, I wonder about Rosa la Rouge. What is it about her that intrigues me?
Is something lost to her? A part of herself that she waits to meet again.
Is something lost to me, I wonder, when I see my reflection in Rosa’s image.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901).
“Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and for being the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers.”
“Rosa la Rouge was a prostitute who appeared in many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings. Sadly, she is thought to be the source from which the artist contracted syphilis, a then-incurable disease which may have contributed to his early death at the age of 37.”
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- Jane Avril: Toulouse-Lautrec’s muse (telegraph.co.uk)
- 20/100: Toulouse-LauTrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light by Robert Burleigh (thescatteredlight.wordpress.com)