Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) Part II

When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but he ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, better known as the outrageous La Goulue (The Glutton) who created the French Can-Can; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles, and though he was not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke English well enough. He traveled to London where he was commissioned by the J. & E. Bella company to make a poster advertising their confetti (which was banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and the bicycle advert La Chaîne Simpson.

While in London, he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec became a very vocal supporter of him and his portrait of Oscar Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.

Toulouse-Lautrec was mocked for his short stature and physical appearance, which led him to drown his sorrows in alcohol. He initially only drank beer and wine, but his tastes expanded into hard liquor, namely absinthe. The cocktail, Earthquake (Tremblement de Terre), is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec. To ensure he was never without alcohol, he hollowed out his cane (which he needed to walk due to his underdeveloped legs) and filled it with liquor.

In addition to his growing alcoholism, Toulouse-Lautrec also frequented prostitutes. He was fascinated by their lifestyle and the lifestyle of the “urban underclass” and incorporated those characters into his paintings. Fellow painter Édouard Vuillard later said that while Toulouse-Lautrec did engage in sex with prostitutes, “the real reasons for his behavior were moral ones … Lautrec was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance. He found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the prostitute.”

By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s alcoholism began to take its toll and he collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of alcoholism. His family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly for three months. While he was committed, he drew 39 circus portraits. After his release, he returned to the Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly due to alcoholism and syphilis, which he reportedly contracted from Rosa La Rouge, a prostitute who was the subject of several of his paintings.

On 9 September 1901, at the age of 36, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at his mother’s estate, Château Malromé in Saint-André-du-Bois. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from the estate. His last words reportedly were “Le vieux con!” (“the old fool”), his goodbye to his father, though another version has been suggested, in which he used the word “hallali”, a term used by huntsmen at the moment the hounds kill their prey: “Je savais, Papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali” (“I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the death.”).

After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, Adèle Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, and his art dealer, Maurice Joyant, continued promoting his artwork. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be created in Albi, his birthplace, to show his works. This Musée Toulouse-Lautrec owns the largest collection of his works.

See the beginning of this article in part I




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