While Lautrec’s celebrity images highlight the flamboyant beauty and sexuality of Montmartre, his pictures of the maisons closes—the late nineteenth-century French euphemism for brothels—observe the seamy world of prostitution. The subjects of these works are not famous stars, but rather nameless women whom Lautrec depicts without glamour or sensationalism. In the Salon: The Sofa illustrates a group of prostitutes in a maison close (closed house) seated upon a red divan, awaiting their clients. With resigned faces and tired eyes, modestly cut frocks, and reserved body language, these women engage with neither the viewer nor one another, embodying a world of alienation. Such alienation, a recurring theme in Lautrec’s work, is frequently regarded as a classic symptom of modernity, and more specifically, of Montmartre.
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