More about Young Woman at a Table, 'Poudre de riz'

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The young woman at the table is either pissed that she got stood up on a date, or that the staff at this cafe is incompetent.

It wasn’t easy, being by yourself in the late 1800s. They didn’t have cell phones to avoid eye contact. In her boredom, she just had to stare back at Henri Toulouse Lautrec.

The woman in the painting has been pegged down as Suzanne Valadon, and isn't actually at a cafe, but instead inside Lautrec's studio. Valadon was a painter, feminist, model, former circus performer, and also one of the Renoir girls. A lot of Impressionists painted her, and a lot of them dated her, too. Lautrec was only one name in a long list of boyfriends, but he changed her life. They met when Lautrec moved into her building in Paris. They became good friends and Lautrec realized Valadon wasn’t just a great model, but a phenomenal painter, too. He christened her Suzanne, after Susanne from the Bible. (She was born Marie-Clémentine Valadon.)

The red pot pictured in this painting, and referenced in the title, 'poudre de riz,' or rice powder, is a type of perfumed white powder women used as a cosmetic to make their skin appear more pale, as was trendy at the time. Consider it the precursor to all those contouring YouTube videos we have today, except if the desired result was not to make you look like a Kardashian, but instead a ghost.  

This quintessential Parisian scene is believed to be set in a cafe. Well, that’s what Vincent van Gogh thought. He’d seen the painting at Lautrec’s studio in Paris and loved it. The two artists were good friends. In fact, Vincent’s brother Theo gave Lautrec his first big break when he gave him his first sale. Lautrec was the one who suggested that Vincent move to Arles to get some fresh air. Henri and Vincent were good for each other. It was a healthy bromance.

Theo van Gogh bought the Young Woman at the Table for his private collection. Vincent had been so invested in the painting, maybe Theo bought it for him. He believed that his own paintings would benefit from Lautrec’s awkward compositions. Vincent was such a cute friend, he wanted both of them to be chilling at the top.