Posts Tagged ‘Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’

Rosa La Rouge, who were you?

Rosa la rouge

At Montrouge – Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec   

I wrote about my first impressions of, At Montrouge: Rosa La Rouge, by Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec in an earlier post, “Rosa La Rouge,” was her name,” after buying the small framed print at a thrift shop.

I’ve learned that the model, Rosa, is a bit of a mystery.

sketch of Carmen Gaudin looks like Rosa

Français : Carmen Gaudin – Boulevard extérieur

The sketch (on the right), from Wiki Commons sure looks like At Montrouge, however the model’s name is documented there as, Carmen Gaudin.

Below are the words to a song that I found online at 

“It’s Rosa I don’t know she comes from
She has red hair, a dog’s head
When she passes they say, here comes ‘Red’
At Montrouge.

When she gets a ‘John’ in the corner
Me, I’m right there not far at all
And the next day the cop finds ‘red’ all right,
At Montrouge.”

Not such a pleasing song for such a lovely woman, even if she was a prostitute.  

I learned a bit more about Rosa from a Princeton blog (below).

“Redheads occupy a significant place in the work of Toulouse-Lautrec. As he declared to his atelier friends in 1884, his preference came from a characteristic odor of the redheads that he found arousing —

–Since the reason he liked to paint her (Rosa) was that he identified himself with her, and more specifically with her fake red hair, painting her as an ordinary brown-haired woman would have had the same connotations as considering himself an ordinary aristocrat, a condition from which he was getting farther and farther away.”  (Source:  The Calling of the Rose — See below for links)

An interesting and informed comment came in for this post from a friend and fellow blogger, Leslie Sigal Javorek, owner of IconDoIt.  Leslie is also the artist who designed the awesome digital art in this post titled, Too Loose to Trek.

From Leslie:

“As to Rosa* she was indeed a prostitute but, unlike most of society (then as now), Lautrec neither felt nor exhibited disdain for these women, rather he believed them to be far more “real” and honest than the upper-class females that he had grown up with. In Lautrec’s voluminous body of work, including paintings and drawings, his models were almost always invariably prostitutes. While many have taken this as a sign of degeneracy, it was simply a fact of life in late-nineteenth century France and also the only source of female models willing to bare more than their face or occasionally their hands. Importantly, Lautrec never portrayed his models in a demeaning way. He was simply a “reporter”, an observer who tried to accurately capture the spirit of his models and surroundings without any moral judgment. If anything, Lautrec’s work accurately reflect his own gregarious, open-minded personality than believed in revering beauty and humanity over dogma.”

“* As to the song you refer to (above), I could find no confirmation whether or not this referred to Carmen specifically or whether it had any connection to Lautrec’s paintings and sketches of Carmen. I suspect that if that song had any connection to a Lautrec model, it would more likely have been Jane Avril, who was not only a red-head but was a popular singer & dancer at the Moulin Rouge at the time.”

Thank you Leslie!

Too Loose to Trek, Nouveau for the 21st century, by Leslie Sigal Javorek

“Too Loose to Trek” by Leslie Sigal Javorek

Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec was an interesting character.  His life and work, and also the lives of his models and friends, led me on an interesting exploration with rich little surprises along the way, such as who is blamed for his early death. 


Her name was Rosa La Rouge!


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Too Loose to Trek, by Leslie Sigal Javorek, IconDoIt, the blog.

The Calling of the Rose,

song via http://www.Christie’

“Rosa la Rouge” was her name.

by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901)

A-Montrouge Rosa la Rouge

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.  

At Montrouge (Rosa La Rouge), by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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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