Wednesday, November 10, 2010
H is for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
The Rogue Speaks:
Little Henri came by his creativity honestly. His father was a rather eccentric fellow who loved playing dress-up! Now before you start getting the wrong idea, he was not actually a cross-dresser. He had cowboy outfit he was fond of wearing, and once appeared in public wearing a Scottish plaid and a dancer's tutu at the same time. One of his pastimes, aside from hunting, was chasing young women. He was also quite interested in the arts, and dabbled in sculpture.
In 1879, at the age of 15, Henri broke one of his legs. The following year, he broke the other leg! The breaks were at growth plates and did not mend well, and as a result, Henri's upper body grew normally, but his legs stopped growing and became misshapen. He looked like a grotesque dwarf.
Henri had always been interested in art, and because of his deformities, his family decided to encourage his interest. Before his accidents, he had been studying art in earnest under a portraitist, Leon Bonnat, but Bonnat's career was near its end, and Henri later studied under Fernand Cormon. Cormon's studio was in Montmartre, and it was there that Henri began his discovery of dance halls and cabarets.
Henri had boundless, and a boundless thirst for alcohol!! He worked hard by day, but his nights were spend wandering around Montmartre, popping in and out of dance halls and brothels, known as the maisons closes.
Henri's lifestyle, as one might surmise, was very unhealthy! Despite his deformities, he was extremely sexually active and referred to himself as "a little teapot with a big spout." He naturally came down with syphilis, and became quite an alcoholic! At one point he had an attach of delirium tremons and was hauled off to an asylum. He dried out for around three months, but after he was released, he started drinking again. In August of 1901, he had a stroke, and was taken care by his mother at her home. He died three weeks later.
Henri was most noted for his wonderful posters, most of which were produced for his favorite dance hall, La Moulin Rouge. His portraits were lovely and sensitive, and he painted many of the prostitutes and dance hall women he had come to know.
My BFA gave me a coffee cup with the image of Jane Avril (4th photo down) and I frequently have my coffee while thinking of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, one of the few artists who actually made money before he drank himself to death. One day I will tell you about an artist who did not abuse his body with drugs, alcohol, or prostitutes, and was successful before death. I just have to find one.