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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), an influential painter of the post-impressionist period, is well-known for his renderings of the elegant, exciting, and often racy Parisian life of the late nineteenth century. In Bed, The Kiss (1892) is no exception: it portrays two women in bed in an intimate embrace.
Such a scene would have been fairly shocking to the contemporary consumer of Toulouse-Lautrec's art, even if people came to expect eroticism from him. Lesbianism was not an accepted part of society at this time. Toulouse-Lautrec drew his inspiration from the somewhat sordid aspects of Parisian nightlife, including bars, brothels, and cabarets. In Bed, The Kiss is believed to depict women working in a brothel. Brothels often lacked the space to provide beds for all of their sex workers, forcing them to share beds with one another. This often led to intimate friendships and even romantic relationships forming between them, which may have been the case for the two women that Toulouse-Lautrec depicts here.
The painting is admired for its ability to render a deep connection between the couple, who appear oblivious to their painter, and impervious to the judgements that might be cast upon them by their society if their relationship were exposed. They seem utterly absorbed in one another, and the viewer has the sense that in the instant captured by Toulouse-Lautrec, they have no concerns besides the moment they are sharing together.
Toulouse-Lautrec is best known for his glamorous depictions of the Moulin Rouge, that tell stories of gaiety, glitz, and good times. In Bed, The Kiss could hardly be further from this in its intimate, vulnerable subject matter which, contrary to the Moulin Rouge posters, gives the viewer the feeling that they are privy to something that was not meant for the public eye. It is testimony to Toulouse-Lautrec's range and ability that, despite his very distinctive style, he was able to portray these contrasting facets of the Parisian sex industry with equal success. Although In Bed, The Kiss shows a scene that is for all intents and purposes quite erotic and sexual, it does not feel in any way pornographic or seedy; rather, it is tender and touching.
In Bed, The Kiss uses vibrant shades of red and yellow to illumine the couple, with more muted shades of grey, blue, and green surrounding them. He uses oil on cardboard, the typical medium for his paintings, although he also produced many watercolours, prints, posters, drawings, and even some ceramic and stained-glass work. He was incredibly prolific during his relatively short career, that spanned less than 20 years in total.