Thursday, May 30, 2013

June 13 Henri Toulous-Lautrec: Soul of Montmartre

Imagine for a moment that you a very lively boy, born into a wealthy family where you

want for nothing. In fact, you’re so active and bouncy, your mother says you are like a ball. You’re also spoiled and even bratty, much learned from unquenchable, familial behavior. Intellectually, you are amazing, picking up languages (Latin, Greek, French, English) very quickly and even showing by three years old, a strong penchant  toward drawing—something the entire family does.

However, your mother is worried about you. You haven’t grown as well as your cousins and other children. You are her only child; your younger brother died just short of his first birthday from fever. Her relationship with your father is strained. The match was wrong from the start. So you have become the center of her universe.

Your father loves the outdoors and spends more time with his horses, dogs and hawks than with you, that is, until you’re old enough to ride. He thinks education is women’s work and he really won’t be part of your life until later. Nonetheless, you idolize your father and he in return.

Then, at 14 you break the femur on your left leg and 15 months later, the femur on the right. Your legs never knit back properly and you are damned to a crippling life never to reach higher than 4’11”. Your mother pulls out all the stops, taking you all over Europe for a cure, including the waters at Lourdes, praying for a miracle. In the meantime, your father begins to distance himself. The hope of having his son by his side while hunting and riding has been dashed. What’s worse as you head further into puberty, your body and face change—you nose widens, lips swell with drool coming down your tucked-under chin. Your torso grows, while your limbs stop growing. All your relatives—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents—begin to treat you differently, not only a cripple but somewhat of a freak.
This was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s early life.  He was the product of first cousins and a family that insisted on marrying within the bloodline to keep outsiders from reaping from inheritances. What’s worse is his father was way over the top with eccentricities: wearing a tutu to dinner, washing his shirts in the gutters of Paris rather than trust a laundress to do the job right, doing whatever he wanted, never caring what anyone thought or being a notorious womanizer all his life. He once said that his women “did not mix love into the matters of copulation.”

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa was born in 1864 at the family home (they had several), Château de Bosc, in the town of Albi. His father was Count Alfonse de Toulouse-Lautrec and his mother, Adèle Tapié de Céleyran. Both families were among the oldest and most notable in France, with a history dating back to the times of Charlemagne and the Crusades.

Bedridden, while recovering from his injuries, Henri spent a lot of his time drawing and water coloring. “I am alone the entire day. I read a little, but after a while my head hurts. I draw and I paint so much that my hand grows tired…”

His favorite subjects were horses, hunts, dogs. While living in Paris with his parents, Henri was put under the tutelage of the deaf-mute, Rene Princeteau (1843-1914), a friend of the family. He and Henri got on very well, some say that the infirmities they both endured helped to seal their relationship. Neither whined about their problems, but instead
Self Portrait
accepted their fate and moved forward.

In time Henri moved onto the prestigious teacher, Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) and when he closed his studio Henri moved over to the  Atelier Cormon, an art school run by Fernand Cormon (1845–1924). Cormon’s desire was to teach students so that they would end up in the state-run Salon. Henri was to meet some of his closest friend there, including Émile Bernard and Vincent Van Gogh.  At the end of the day though,  he was tired of learning about the traditional “Salon” method and wanted to venture out on his own. “I am here to learn my trade,” he said, “not to let myself be absorbed.”

Henri began to frequent Montmartre —a section near Paris that was incorporated as the
18th district (arrondissement) in 1860. A pastoral hill, just north of the city, Montmartre
Early Montmartre
was originally dotted with windmills, farms and vineyards, tended by nuns who also produced wine. As Napoleon and Haussmann tore down the medieval city of Paris, the poor and the underworld moved up the hill and other places outside the city borders.  Montmartre became a dangerous place and eventually becoming a lure for the wealthy to go slumming.

In 1881 Le Chat Noir (the Black Cat) opened as one of the first cabarets (entertainment
Moulin Rouge, late 19th century

Yes, they had a giant elephant in the garden where men
would enjoy private belly dances and opium. 
house) or nightclubs, where people came to drink, congregate and be entertained by variety shows. Others would follow: The Elysee-Montmartre, Moulin-de-la-Gallette, Mirliton and the Moulin Rouge. This marked the beginning of the “bohemian” * lifestyle in Montmartre. Everything was up for grabs, like the counter-culture of the 60s where if it feels good, do it or do your own thing was in fashion. The bourgeoisie (middle class) life-style was rejected and everyone was searching for a new truth. Artists, musicians, writers, entertainers and unfortunately anarchists were part of the Montmartre culture—so were prostitutes, pick-pockets, con men, murderers, thieves and so on. It was a dangerous place. (Even in 2010, when my family and I visited, we did not feel safe. It was the only place where we were accosted by anyone in the street.)

Montmartre gave Henri a place to be. His monstrous looks were often offensive to strangers and coughed up ridicule by others. Here, in a world of other
At the Mouline Rouge
 Valentin dancing(background)
outsiders, he felt safe. He was also frequently accompanied by his friends for a protective purpose.  He had a lisp and drooled when talked and he waddled like a duck when he walked, using a cane to help keep him steady. The only thing that seemed normal on him was his big beautiful eyes. Conversely, he had a winning personality—never showing pity for his plight in life (until the end) and was big on self-deprecating humor (let them laugh with you, instead of at you). He was generous, caring, passionate and sensitive. It sounds like he would have been a great friend, and I believe that’s why so many of them stuck with him to the bitter end.

At the Moulin Rouge (1894-95)
Friends visiting. Red head at table is Jane Avril,.
 May Milton is in the foreground.
Notice the background. Henri is there! 
He befriended Aristide Bruant  (owner of Mirliton where the proprietor would throw insults at everyone and where Henri displayed a lot of his work), dancers/entertainers, such as,  Marie-Clementine (Suzanne )Valadon (model/mistress), La Goulue  (Louise Weber/model) and  Valentin le désossé (Jacques Renaudin), who was never paid for his dancing. Interestingly, La Goulue, which means glutton in French, would become the Queen of Montmartre. She was known for drinking customers’ drinks while she performed and kicking her legs up so well during the can-can that she could knock off a man’s hat (supposedly done to the Prince of Wales during one of his visits to the Moulin Rouge). All of these people would end up on posters created by Henri to promote them and the cabarets. It is said that he raised these singers and dancers to the level of celebrities to the mass media through his posters—something not done in those days.
Bal du moulin de la Galette (1889)
Three prostitues looking for work as their pimp looks on.
Compare this to Renoir's rending of the same place.

Henri eventually set up a studio (after receiving an allowance from the family) in Montmartre and a flat with his friend Henri Bourges, who was a medical student. Even though influenced by artists like Degas and Bernard at the time, he started to find his own way. He exhibited with the Impressionists, the XX (the twenty) in Brussels and even had some drawings published in local papers.

Poster advetising Jane Avril
A somewhat new business was advancing in Paris at the time: the Poster Movement, which captured Henri’s interest. Before the mid-19th century, most towns and cities were not inundated with advertising. Today that seems hard to imagine when, wherever we go, there is an ad barking at us. But thanks to the invention of the lithograph (a type of printing that’s not relief) posters could be printed in volume to advertise events and products. The most well-known poster artist of the day was Jules Chéret (1836-1932).  It was a great way to be seen and make some money. So when Oller and Zidler (owners of the Moulin Rouge, where Henri would have an exclusive seat to drink and draw as long as wanted each night) asked Henri to produce a poster for their new season, he jumped at the chance. And as always, he worked diligently on the project, which became a great way for him to play with his designs and his love of Japanese art. As he made more posters, the more famous he became. Eventually he was overseeing his own production as the printing houses. By the way, we in the public are more familiar with his posters, which he created on cardboard, than anything else.

Poster advertising Bruant

In 1893, his roommate moved out of their flat in order to get married, Henri lost interest in Montmartre. By now he had contracted syphilis and his roommate Bourges had been helping him as best he could medically (later Dr. Bourges would write L'hygiène du syphilitique in 1897). Henri turned to brothels.

As others would say, Henri felt like an outsider. His father and family had rejected him, although his mother would stand by him to the end. Beyond his physical difficulties, the family, especially his father found his professional choice as an artist as offensive and demeaning. This was a world beneath the privilege of his birth.

In turn, prostitutes were outsiders too. He ate with them, slept with them, played with them (from cards to dice) and painted them. With his deformed body, what better place to go than a place where the inhabitants had seen everything!  Nakedness meant nothing to them either, making them perfect models. He once said, “Models always look as if they were stuffed; these women are alive. I wouldn't dare pay them to pose for me, yet God knows they’re worth it. They stretch themselves out on divans like animals…they’re so lacking in pretention….”
Sketch for Hung Over

Hung Over (1889)

Uniquely, Henri painted what he saw without comment. This is especially true with his album (series) of lithographs called Elles, where he depicted life inside a brothel. Here he shows women exhausted, waiting in line for their weekly checkup, caring for each other (many were lesbians, which fascinated Henri), bathing, waiting for customers and so on.


Medical check ups/Elles

Woman staring at herself/Elles

The drinking, fast-track living and syphilis finally caught up to Henri. Near the end, his friends worried about him dearly and with his mother’s help he was put into an asylum for detox. He hated it there because he didn't believe he was mad, just a drunk. He was extremely worried he would never see freedom again because, in his mind, it was risky to be a wealthy patient—the hospital loses the patient; they lose income.  He indeed sobered up and began to draw circus motifs, all from memory! 

Reluctantly, the doctors released him in May 1899. But by autumn, he was drinking again. At first, he hid his liquor in a small bottle hidden in his cane, but after leaving it behind during one of his trips, he just went back to his old ways.

Two weeks before he died.

By now, his production was considerably lower. He was only in his mid-30s, but worse off than ever. These days he wasn't pleasant either. All the pity, anger, resentment came out to anyone nearby. It as if a veil was lifted, replacing all that good humor and cheer with his brokenness, depression, rage and loss. Henri would live another 18 months, struck down by paralysis (some say strokes) and the final stages of sphyllis. He was only 36 (a few months shy of his 37th birthday).

Some call Lautrec, the chronicler of Montmartre, the soul of Montmartre, the master of lithograph, the first master of advertising design, the master of celebrity. All of this is true. Was he a saint? Not quite. Was he a master? Yes.  But more importantly, he was a human trying to get through the day with far greater challenges than most of us have ever imagined. What sustained his life was drawing; it’s just unfortunate it couldn't have saved his life.

Next month: George Seura

What's Coming Up

See my for other details

New! Workshops at Glastonbury Studios
This summer I am trying out something new: holding one-day workshops in my studio, located in Tigard, just off highway 99. To ensure a high student-tech ratio, there is a minimum of five students with a max of ten.

The cost is $70 per workshop, which includes supplies and lunch. All you have to do is show up, ready to learn!!

Saturday, June 15
Let’s Draw! with Colored Pencils 10 a.m. To 4 p.m.
Learn how to use colored pencil by building up layers until you reach a brilliant, colorful surface. Learn how to use a variety of strokes and blending techniques. No experience needed. All supplies provided. Age 16+

Friday, July 19
Travel Sketching Workshop   10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Journey with your sketchbook. Capture street scenes, markets, people and landscapes. Use pencil, watercolor washes or pen and ink. No experience needed. All supplies provided. Age 16+

Saturday, August 10
Let’s Paint!  with Pastels  Workshop 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Learn to create luscious pastel paintings using both soft and oil pastels on various papers and supports. Techniques covered will include:linear strokes, side strokes, blending, broken color, feathering, scumbling, sgraffito  and stippling. May do some outdoor work in backyard if weather permits. No experience necessary. All supplies provided. Age 16+

To register for a studio workshop contact Jill at:

Glastonbury Studios:
Six-Week Classes Begin Week of June 2nd
Mark your calendars, the new classes for the first summer session will begin the week of June 2nd. I'm planning classes this time with similar themes: perspective, buildings and urban settings. Isn't it time to finally learn those pesky rules, so you can be confident when you're painting and/or drawing? Come see how easy it all is.

Tuesday evenings $70/session
7-9 p.m.
One, Two, Three Point Perspective
Come on, you know you should know this stuff. Perspective isn't as hard as you think. In fact, it can be lots of fun!! Will work from photos.

Wednesday mornings $70/session
10 to 12 noon
Sketch’n on the Go™
Urban Sketching 
We will begin in the studio and as weather permits we will begin our outdoor sketch of the Portland Metro area for the summer

Thursday evenings $80/session
6:30 to 9:00 p.m.
City Scenes
Let's explore different city scenes from Venice to New York and of course, our own sweet city of Portland. Learn how to embrace the city using classical structure, both day and night.

Second Sundays: Visual Journaling
1:00 to 4 p.m. No experience. $20

Toulouse Lautrec, the Soul of Montmartre by Reinhold Heller (1997)
Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Perruchot (1960)
Lautrec by Edouard Julien (no date) knew the Lautrec family

*Wikipedia definition: The use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free love, frugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty

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