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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de


The Kiss
1892
oil on cardboard
60 x 80 cm
Private collection

The Kiss is a sensual scene of two lesbians kissing on a bed. Towards the end of 1892 Lautrec was commissioned to produce decorations for the salon walls of the Rue d'Amboise brothel, and he decided to design 16 panels in the style of Louis XV, each one centring on an oval portraits of one of the girls. It was during this time that Lautrec had the opportunity to study their lifestyle at close quarters. He was fascinated to discover that many of them were deeply in love with each other, and he frequently made these couples the subjects of his paintings. He thereby succeeded in portraying the genuine depth of these lesbian relationships without exposing the girls' tenderness and helplessness to voyeurism.

"I paint things as they are. I don't comment." "I have tried to do what is true and not ideal." (Toulouse-Lautrec)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) ,an aristocrat, was born in southern France. The son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse, he was the last in the line of an aristocratic family that dated back a thousand years. Today, the family estate houses the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec.

He is a painter and illustrator, whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life yielded an oeuvre of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is known, along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. He observed and captured in his art the Parisian nightlife of the period.

Henri's father was rich, handsome, and eccentric. His mother was overly devoted to her only living child. They themselves were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this inbreeding. As a child, Henri was weak and often sick. But by the time he was 10 years old he had begun to draw and paint. At 12 young, he broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. He was only 4 1/2 feet (1.5 meters) tall.

Deprived of the physical life that a normal body would have permitted, Toulouse-Lautrec lived completely for his art. He dwelt in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to depict in his work. Dance halls and nightclubs, racetracks, prostitutes - all these were memorialized on canvas or made into lithographs. He was very much an active part of this community. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, meanwhile making swift sketches. The next morning in his studio he would expand the sketches into brightly colored paintings.

In order to join in the Montmartre life - as well as to fortify himself against the crowd's ridicule of his appearance - he began to drink heavily. By the 1890s the drinking was affecting his health. He was confined first to a sanatorium and then to his mother's care at home, but he could not stay away from alcohol. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36, at the family chateau of Malrome. His last words were: "Le vieux con!" ("The old fool!", although the word "con" can be meant in both simple and vulgar terms). This was his goodbye to his father. Since after his death, his paintings and posters - particularly the Moulin Rouge group - have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be created in Albi, his birthplace, to house her deceased son's works. The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum now owns the world's largest collection of works by the painter.
His debt to the Impressionists, in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas, is apparent. His style was also influenced by the classical Japanese woodblock prints which became popular in art circles in Paris.