Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Toulouse-Lautrec Kicking It Up at MOMA

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) brought his posters, prints, and illustrations for journals and magazines to the masses in the late 1880s. His unique position as an artist who frequented both sides of the social spectrum permitted him access to artists, prostitutes, performers, authors, intellectuals, and society figures. His work shows different aspects of Parisian life and we follow his journeys between brothels, concert halls, the circus, racetracks and high society shindigs. He was embraced by the marginalized of Parisian society, although his ancestry ranked amongst the cultural elite. He drew what lay before him without discernment or preference. We see what he saw, and in some cases, it was a revelation to the gallery-going public, who marveled at the back of the house environments of actresses and singers. These were average people doing their jobs and relaxing with their friends, just any other group did, but to the upper crust of society, this was tantalizing, and dare I say it, a bit voyeuristic.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s manner of drawing was fluid and imbued his subjects with a quirked up sensibility. Many of his works can be described as colored drawings in paint. He excelled at capturing people in their working environment, and he felt for his subjects in both a sympathetic and dispassionate manner as one who suffered with them, as he surely did himself.

I chose to write about Toulouse-Lautrec (TL) number one because he’s a damned good artist, and secondly, because there is a large exhibition currently at the MOMA in New York. “The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters” brings nearly 100 prints and posters out of MOMA’s vaults - showing now through March 22, 2015. This is the first MOMA exhibition in 30 years dedicated solely to Lautrec and his works on paper. The exhibition was organized by Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, at MOMA. Thank you for making this exhibition possible for us to see these marvelous works on paper! I encourage all my inked up comrades to unite and get yourselves to NYC to see this terrific show.

Following the topics of the MOMA show, I am presenting images which cover the Parisian cafés, dance halls and nightlife; actresses, singers and performers; prostitutes during non-working hours; some designs for song sheets; and horse racing.

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France. He was the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec, an aristocratic family (descendants of the Counts of Toulouse). The Comte and Comtesse themselves were first cousins, thus Henri suffered from congenital inbreeding which came to affect a lot of the European aristocracy.

After the death of his younger brother(possibly also due to inbreeding health issues), his parents separated and a nanny took care of Henri until he was eight years old. He then went to live with his mother in Paris, where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks.

At the age of 13 Henri fractured his left thigh bone, and at 14, the right. The breaks did not heal properly. His legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 5 ft. 1 in. tall, having an adult-sized torso, with child-sized legs. In 1875 Henri returned to Albi because his mother recognized his health problems. She consulted many doctors in the hope of finding a cure for her son's growth problem but to no avail. When it became apparent that TL would not be able to participate in most of the activities enjoyed by his peers or pursue a young society woman for a wife, he rejected his family’s social stature and turned to art.

He went to study under the portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Henri's mother had high ambitions of him becoming a fashionable and respected artist, but Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to the famous Parisian bohemian neighborhood Montmartre, an area full of artists and writers. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Here, Toulouse-Lautrec also had his first encounter with a prostitute, which led him to paint these women in Montmartre. He spent a lot of his time in brothels, where he was accepted by the women and their madams. He even went to live in the brothels for a time, and in return they made him their confidant.

When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, it commissioned Toulouse-Lautrec to produce a series of advertisement posters. His mother had left Paris by then and Henri had a regular income from his family, but making the posters allowed him to make an additional wage of his own. The cabaret often reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings.

He eventually became an important Post-Impressionist painter, illustrator, and lithographer; and recorded many details of late-19th-century Parisian bohemian lifestyle. Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

In 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym "Tréclau". He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. From 1889 until 1894, Henri took part in the "Independent Artists' Salon" on a regular basis.

Lautrec also turned to alcohol to drown his sorrows and block out the ridiculing he received from his aristocratic peers. By 1893 the drinking began to take its toll, and it was rumored that he also suffered from syphilis. In 1899 his mother had him briefly institutionalized. He died at the Chateau de Malrome before his 37th birthday from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, close to the family’s estate.

After Toulouse-Lautrec's death, his mother and Maurice Joyant, his art dealer, promoted his art. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works, and there one can see some marvelous pieces by this soulful master.

While Toulouse-Lautrec’s short career spanned less than 20 years, he produced 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters and 5,084 drawings. I don't think anyone will ever tire of seeing this man's work. I am glad it is getting some attention, so pick up a glass, my inked up friends and toast to one of our best comrades.

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