Toulouse-Lautrec Reinterprets Degas

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

At the Ambassadeurs_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Ambassadeurs, Singer at the Café-Concert, 1894. Crayon, brush and spatter lithograph, printed in six colors. Key stone printed in olive green, color stones in yellow, beige-gray, salmon pink, black, and blue on wove paper. Only state, 12 × 9 3/4 in. Private collection

At the Ambassadeurs, Singer at the Café-Concert (1894)

“Degas has encouraged me by saying my work this summer wasn’t too bad. I’d like to believe it.”
—Toulouse-Lautrec to his mother, 1891

Degas comparison_thumbnail size_Mlle Bécat at the Café des Ambassadeurs degas

Edgar Degas, Mademoiselle Bécat at the Café des Ambassadeurs, 1877/85. Pastel over lithograph, 9 1/16 x 7 7/8 in. Thaw Collection. Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints

Taking inspiration from an artist he admired, Toulouse-Lautrec reinterpreted Edgar Degas’s Mlle Bécat at the Café des Ambassadeurs as a moment glimpsed from behind the scenes. He reversed the position of the singer and placed all of the action within the upper half of the composition. For light and atmosphere, he covered the key stone in crayon and added layers of tone with brushed ink and spatter. This lithograph appeared in the sixth L’Estampe originale album of April–June 1894.

What are the similarities and differences you find most striking between the two works? If you were to reinterpret Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Ambassadeurs, Singer at the Café-Concert, what would you change?

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