In 1895 Toulouse-Lautrec painted the dancer and clownesse Cha-U-Kao, one of his favorite models. She derived her nickname from the “chahut chaos” (meaning noise and chaos).—a dance popular at the time at le Moulin Rouge among other places.
Described by Lautrec as the ‘clown with tits’, the present painting is an intimate one, where the clownesse is not under public gaze. Her aging body was a perfect example of Toulouse-Lautrec’s interest in human physical decline. He also had a tender eye towards physics out of the ideal, being himself handicapped.
His comments are inspired from his quotes “I paint things as they are. I don't comment. I record.” “I have tried to do what is true and not ideal” and “I have always been a pencil”.
A comment is made by his friend the artist Paul Signac known for his study of color and pointillist style
Toulouse-Lautrec had become acquainted with Wilde, and painted Wilde’s portrait in Paris the same year. Wilde’s comment is taken from his writings “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.”
Sources: Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
The letters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1991
The Soul of Man under Socialism, Oscar Wilde, 1891
New discoveries: Paul Signac painted watercolours of Van Gogh’s asylum, Martin Bailey The Art Newspaper, 2019
Henri and Chaukao, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 14" x 11" (36 x 28 cm)