Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

I found this story on Jeff Kacirk’s “Forgotten English” calendar for November 23/24, 2013.

There’s loads to be said about Toulouse-Lautrec. I could write you essays about his artwork (which, by the way, if you’re not familiar with it, then you should be).

Unfortunately, these are mostly mass-printed as posters and put up by people who think they kinda look nice, but have no idea about the history or social connotations or artistic movements behind them. There were precisely 1 million of these posters up in dorm rooms when I was at university.

No need to check my numbers. These facts are the real deal. Probably.

I could write you a paper about popular conceptions of the aristocracy (Lautrec’s father was a French count) as a degenerative, exploitative, debauched group (Lautrec had serious health issues, thought by many to be rooted in his family’s inbreeding, since his parents were first cousins; he was also an alcoholic who spent a lot of time slumming it with the lower classes).

I could also talk a lot about representations of him in film. He was my favorite character in Moulin Rouge! (2000), and portrayed as a total baller in the completely unconnected 1952 John Houston film by the same name.

And don’t even get me started on Zsa Zsa Gabor, who spends the entire movie wearing dead Muppets on her head.

Rather, today I want to tell a quick story about how his artwork both got him into trouble and out of trouble. Wow, that sentence could be a summary of his whole life.

“This French painter and draftsman’s artistic talent contributed to both his landing in an alcohol rehabilitation ‘sanitarium’ and to his release from it. He was fond of the joie de vivre of cabaret life in Montmarte, where he hastily sketched other patrons and dancers. But he was uncomfortable because of his stunted stature of only four feet six inches due to childhood leg injuries, and he began to drink heavily at clubs like the Moulin Rouge.

After detoxing for a while, he wanted to prove that he was ready to go home, and managed to convince doctors of this throgh a series of drawings demonstrating his sobriety. Back at the Moulin Rouge in 1891, he was commissioned to create posters publicizing the club’s hottest attraction, a strawberry blonde dancer known as ‘La Goulue,’ or the glutton, who could nimbly kick the top hats off patrons while dancing an early form of the provocative Cancan. The artist’s posters became so popular that they were regularly stolen by thieves who carefully removed them from walls before the adhesive had dried”.

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