In Bed with Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec dreamily depicts two women embracing in bed in his piece, Au Lit:Le Basier. Lautrec painted various images like this one capturing life in Parisian brothels. We are taken into the couple’s intimate space, perhaps they have just made love, or are greeting each other in the early hours of the morning. Undoubtedly, illustrating intimacy between two female prostitutes was radical in 1892, but the source of the painting’s impact is not controversy, it is its evocation of longing.
Lautrec has surrounded the couple with subdued greens, blues, yellows and shadows, while focusing the light on the shape of their entanglement. The women face and mirror each other with their hands placed on one another’s upper backs. Their figures form almost a heart shape with their elbows making a bottom point and their heads top circular sections. Color and emotion culminate in the the hints of pink in their flesh, and the dark red of their hair and her lips. The cool colors of the bed linens and their skin contrasts with the warmth of their hair and the light centered on their entwined figures. Lautrec has illustrated what appears as a sweet, yet hazy, memory of the satisfaction of reciprocity.
The viewer senses the harmony between the two women. There is no power struggle, no quarrel, and moreover; no unrequited feelings. When love is requited the drab darkness of the world merely serves as a background. Love and sex dominates our culture and impulses, and we all desire the tenderness of human touch. One cannot help but envy the passion and bliss of the couple’s love nest. Lautrec has captured in this image the way in which love encompasses physical and emotional intimacy, and the essential trust between bodies and minds for love to flourish. Any viewer who has known the comfort of being loved or simply being held by another will be overwhelmed with desire.