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Mary Hamilton


Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 - 1901) Primary
Date: 1894
19th century
Dimensions: 11.25 x 17.25 in. (28.58 x 43.82 cm)
Object Type: Print
Creation Place: Europe, France
Medium and Support: Lithograph
Credit Line: Gift of James Reed, 2019.
Accession Number: 2019.03.311
Not on view.

Toulouse-Lautrec had already drawn a portrait of English cabaret performer Mary Hamilton for the 1893 portfolio Le Café-Concert. Both it and this more detailed version depict her wearing men’s evening wear, which was then a marker of lesbian identity. Although male homosexual activity was still criminalized in France at this time, French vice squads appear to have ignored the Montmartre cafés such as Le Rat-Mort and La Souris that catered almost exclusively to a lesbian audience.

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Lautrec’s detailed lithograph of English cabaret performer Mary Hamilton depicts her in her entertainment attire, including a men’s three-piece suit complete with a boutonniere. Cross-dressing was common among performers France during the 19th century. Music halls and cafés in particular were common places to spot an entertainer dressed in the attire of the opposite sex. While this style of dress was common for European entertainment, it was also a symbol of lesbian identity in France. Many of the female cabaret performers in France during this time were bisexual or lesbians, performing in queer-owned and frequented locations, particularly in the area of Montmartre. Unlike in other parts of Western Europe, France decriminalized sodomy after the French Revolution, so LGBT culture flourished in Paris. This allowed for performers like Mary Hamilton not only to perform but to live more freely despite the occasional raids of queer-run businesses. The name Mary Hamilton also belonged to a woman in the 18th century who was notorious for marrying a woman while dressed as a man, which may have been the origin of the cabaret performer’s stage name.

Danielle Sondgeroth ‘22

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In this lithograph, drawn by famed nightlife artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, a cabaret performer, Mary Hamilton, wears a men’s suit jacket, a symbol of her lesbian identity in the Parisian entertainment industry. Although homosexuality and other acts of sodomy were illegal at the time this lithograph was created, laws against lesbianism were not as toughly enforced by the police and “pederasty patrols,” as sex between males. This allowed the lesbian subculture in Paris to flourish while much of the gay community was still reluctant to openly flaunt their sexuality. But, just as putting on a men’s jacket was a rejection of the day’s social and gender norms, the drawing itself is a rejection of perfection held by academic artists from earlier in the century. Her form is chaotically scribbled, with limbs missing and undefined; and although her face–frighteningly depicted–lacks proper line definition, we can tell from the piece that Hamilton is on stage. The bottom half of her face and neck are solid white, while the top half, including her nose and above her eyes, are shaded. This is meant to resemble the look of performers in the cast of stage lights which came up from the floor.

Tyler Heffern ‘22




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