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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec always harboured a keen fascination with the world of the theatres and cafés-concerts of Paris, which he depicted in numerous works, exhibiting his impressive powers of observation. The famous singer Yvette Guilbert (1867‒1944), a genuine star of the Divan Japonais, Ambassadeurs and Moulin Rouge cabarets in fin-de-siècle Paris, had met Toulouse Lautrec at the beginning of 1893 through the writer Maurice Donnay and had become one of the painter’s favourite vedettes . In this portrait, which was used to illustrate Gustave Geffroy’s article on cafésconcerts in Le Figaro Illustré in 1893, Yvette is depicted on the edge of the stage, in a stiff pose — haughty even — about to perform the de rigueur curtsey between rounds of applause. According to the singer’s memoirs, he had copied her chignon and pale makeup from a wax head in the Musée de Lille and her long V-necked dress from Albert Besnard’s Portrait of Mme Roger Jourdain.
For a time the work belonged to the French silent film actor Max Linder (Maximilien Gabriel Leuvielle, 1883–1925).