Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi

Another of the wonderful things to do here in the Midi is to go to Albi and visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. Albi is close to his birthplace and claims him as a native son. The town of Albi is full of goregeous red brick buildings, as is Toulouse and several other villages in this part of France.

When Nancy and I were in France in the Spring of 2001 we drove from Andorra to the World War II D-Day beaches in Normandy. One overnight stop was in Albi. The next morning, a Sunday, we went to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum and actually killed some time and waited around till it opened at 10:00. We planned to spend several hours there and go on to northern France. The museum was open when we got there a little before t10:00, which we thought unusual and very unlike the French to open early. We went in and began wandering around. We'd been there for about and hour and one of the guards started to shoo us out. We were astonished. "Why must we leave?" He finally made us understand it was time for lunch. We were ushered out, angry and confused. We looked at our watch and it was 11:00 and they were closing and taking lunch early? He made us understand that our tickets would be good for the afternoon as well. Of course the museum was closed from 12:00 to 2:30 for the long French lunch break. We got in our rental car and drove on north, mad at the Frogs and their weird ways. Only later did we learn that it was Daylight Savings Time going into effect. We were and hour behind the rest of France. Six years later we went to the museum for most of the afternoon. It was worth the wait.

Below is a brief history of the man, Monsieur Toulouse-Lautrec.

Born on November 24, 1864 to the Comte and Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec started out with the cards against him. His parents were unhappily married first cousins, leaving him to inherit several genetic disorders that would plague him his whole life. Educated mainly at home by tutors and his mother, young Henri developed a very strong love-hate relationship with his mother. Overprotective in the extreme towards her fragile son, she even lived near his studios in Paris for his whole adult life. Her hold over him was so strong that, despite his bohemian lifestyle, he would dine almost every night. The Comte, on the other hand, is notable for his absence and colorful lifestyle. Often mentally unbalanced himself, he shared with his son a love for women and animals. In fact, Henri first learned of drawing from his father and uncles, themselves accomplished amateur artists. The boy became especially good at depicting the motion of the menagerie of animals that roamed his childhood landscape. At a very young age, he could capture several stages of movement in one image. His talent for art was one small blessing in a young life that seemed cursed. Art became a defense mechanism against the many ailments that began to plague him around the age of 10. Previously a very active boy, at this time he experienced severe bone pain and was hospitalized for a year. Next, in 1878, he fell from a chair and broke his left thigh bone, only to break the right one the following year. By 16, Toulouse-Lautrec was permanently dwarfed, his growth having stopped at 1.52 meters. This also led to a severe impairment in his ability to walk, leaving him with a very distinctive duck-like waddle as a gait. Because this inability left him unfit for much else, his parents were very supportive of his early artistic aspirations, providing him with tutors and eventually sending him to Paris to study in 1882, albeit with mother in tow. While there, he studied under Louis Bonnat and Fernand Cormon and became friends with other young artists, such as Vincent van Gogh.His career officially started when, at the age of 19, he moved into his own studio and received his first commission – to illustrate for Victor Hugo’s latest novel. After five years of academic training, he had become very good at doing what was expected. His own works, however, already showed a disregard for the rules. Although he never joined a formal school of artistic theory, he was clearly influenced by Edgar Degas, Honore Daumier, Jean-Louis Forain, and Japonisme. Perhaps his greatest influence came from the neighborhood his first studio was in: the infamous Montmartre district, bohemia-central for Paris. The combination of several scandalous nightclubs, low rents, and a reputation as a haven for the poor and marginalized attracted the young avant-garde sector of Parisian society, leading to further wildness and bohemian behavior. Toulouse-Lautrec and his artist-friends became particularly well-known for their exploits in the night clubs and galleries. Very quickly, Toulouse-Lautrec spiralled into hopeless alcoholism, leading to outrageous drunk behavior where his physical appearance and ever-present sketchbook made him very recognizable. As could be expected, his unrestrained lifestyle caused much conflict within his aristocratic family, generating many arguments over money and the use of the family name on Toulouse-Lautrec’s often-scandalous works. Despite these clashes, the artist was very successful. Enormously productive, he became popular both with avant-garde crowd and the bourgeoisie public. His career was marked by boldness and a hatred for hypocrisy in people’s relationships with each other and themselves. With frequently autobiographical subject matter and scenes, his works have greatly influenced even the modern-day perception of turn-of-the-century Paris. By 1893, the alcoholism was taking its toll, as those around Toulouse-Lautrec began to realize the seriousness of his condition, including rumors of a syphilis infection. Finally, in 1899, his mother and concerned friends had him briefly institutionalized, but it was more than likely too late. In 1901, while on holiday, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered a massive stroke and died a little while later at his mother’s house on September 9, 1901, only a few months shy of his 37th birthday. He left behind no wife or children, only a tremendous legacy of artwork, including 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 369 prints and posters, 4784 drawings, and about 300 erotic and pornographic works.
This is a summary of the "Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de" article by Julia Frey in the Grove Art Online at www.groveart.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Luke has always been fond of Toulouse-Lautrec, especially his posters for the Moulin Rouge...so colorful and outrageous! He immortalized so many performers (and characters!)who would never have been known outside of their Monmarte environs. I envy that you were able to see some of the original works!