Feel Art Again: "The Bed"

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Back in November, I briefly discussed Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in part 1 of "November Artists," mentioning the last words he uttered to his father before his death. After the Review Session and Exam a few weeks ago, reader Ginny requested some more in-depth coverage of Toulouse-Lautrec. I am more than happy to oblige.

1. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is almost as well known for his physical appearance and health problems as he is for his artwork. At age 13 and age 14, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his thighs. The legs never fully mended and stopped growing, most likely the results of a genetic disease. As an adult, he was 5 feet, 1 inch tall, with a full-sized torso and child-sized legs. Supposedly, though, he also had hypertrophied genitals.

2. Although he is often considered a post-impressionist, Toulouse-Lautrec said of himself, "I don't belong to any school. I work in my corner. I admire Degas." He preferred prostitutes and cabaret dancers to professional models, for the models lacked the natural, unconstrained movement of the prostitutes and dancers.

3. The son of the Count and Countess Toulouse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is the only genuine aristocrat to have gained a serious art reputation. Unfortunately, his aristocratic family was prone to in-breeding (his parents were first cousins), which resulted in a variety of chronic genetic illnesses in the family.

4. Toulouse-Lautrec was a severe alcoholic who is credited with inventing the Tremblement de Terre, which contains half absinthe and half cognac. He was hospitalized for alcoholism in 1899, but continued to paint and make posters. His death in 1901, at the age of 36, was due to complications of alcoholism and syphilis.

5. Most of Toulouse-Lautrec's work features the prostitutes and dancers from the Moulin Rouge and other cabarets and brothels. Toulouse-Lautrec would often move into brothels for weeks at a time, which enabled him to get to know the prostitutes well. He often painted lesbians, such as in "The Bed," and was partial to red-headed women because he believed they smelt of sex.

6. Not long after moving to Paris in 1882 to study, Toulouse-Lautrec met Vincent van Gogh. He also met Oscar Wilde, a fellow absinthe-lover, during his years in Paris. He was a supporter of Wilde and painted a portrait of the playwright.

7. Over the course of his short career, Toulouse-Lautrec produced more than 700 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, and more than 5,000 drawings, as well as some ceramic and stained glass work. In the mid-1890s, he contributed illustrations to the humor magazine Le Rire. After his death, his mother contributed money to build a museum to house his works in Albi, his birthplace.

A larger version of "The Bed" is available here.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

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March 25, 2008 - 3:45am
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