This portrait feels typical of French art from the late 19th century, as a young woman sits in the artist's studio. This piece was appreciated by Toulouse Lautrec's friend, Vincent van Gogh, who immediately instructed his brother Theo to purchase the piece. Artists in Paris at this time would regularly spend time in each other's company, sharing ideas and also often buying each other's work. The red pot placed in front of the model would have contained rice powder which at this time was used as makeup. The detail on this painting is softly delivered, creating an impression rather than a direct copy of reality, and this approach was first used by the Impressionists, several decades earlier and would influence this artist considerably. He appreciated the softness and felt it suited some of his intimate portraits, such as Young Woman at a Table from 1887.
The composition in front of us here features a young woman dressed in a relatively simple, modest outfit. She leans over the table in front of her, arms crossed, and a serious expression on her face. She is of slim build, and ideal as a muse for this particular artist. The table has a white table cloth hanging across it, which provides the brightest reflection of light anywhere in the painting. She sits on a wooden chair made of wicker, which is built more for comfort than elegance. Two landscape paintings hang from the wall behind her, and the artist creates a patterned background of dabs of paint across the walls. The location has since been identified as his own studio and so he would have been able to carefully prepare every element of this composition, prior to his model arriving.
Having made its way into the collection of Theo van Gogh, who himself was a successful art collector and dealer, this painting now resides at the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This popular venue mainly focuses on Vincent's oeuvre, but there are important additions from other related artists, many of whom were actually his friends during his time in Paris. These help to give a broader understanding of art in Paris in the late 19th century and also to remind us of the breadth of talent that was to be found here, with contributors moving in from outside France as the city's artistic reputation soared over that period.