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Hemingway's Hangover
I found this while searching through some of my old files. It's a bit dated now but I thought I'd post it anyway...I'd love to read some responses.

Selling Lautrec


This autumn Christie's in New York sold Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's brilliant post-impressionist portrait "The Laundress" to an anonymous bidder for a record 22.4 million dollars. The picture, a detailed oil of a young girl with her back to the viewer, seems to be an unusual one for Lautrec, who is mostly known as the man who helped popularize the use of the poster for advertising purposes, usually portraying the gaiety and depravity of fin-de-siecle Paris in the solid blocks of color adapted from Japanese prints and also admired by a certain one-eared artist who is usually considered a more "serious" painter than Lautrec.

The New York Times was so blown away by the difference between "The Laundress" and Lautrec's more popular works that they titled their article about the auction "A Lautrec, and It's Not Bawdy" as if their editorial staff had swallowed the farcical portrayal of Lautrec by John Leguizamo in the heinous film "Moulin Rouge" as a carefree party-boy without an ounce of historical research or even basic biographical analysis. This is no real surprise to anyone familiar with the reporting style of the Times -- from Jayson Blair's bogus bulletins to Judith Miller's reporting of Iraq's fictional WMD program, the "newspaper of record" hasn't been very effective at reporting facts in recent years.

A comprehensive examination of Lautrec's paintings will quickly eliminate any conception that the work could ever be considered a glorification of the social conditions of time. David Sweetman, his most recent biographer, makes this point very clearly in his brilliant "Toulouse Lautrec and the Fin-de-Siecle", and if the writers at the NY Times had bothered to read it they may have not used such a glib and ignorant headline.

Lautrec specialized in portraying the effects of poverty and degradation on the women of Paris, especially on members of the underclass. Lautrec was the malformed, inbred son of mid-grade royalty and he grew to despise his upbringing while living in the louche districts of Paris (including a brothel) and studying art and color. One of Lautrec’s most overlooked series consists of subjects inspired by the folk songs of Aristide Bruant, who began his career singing sad tales of poverty in cafes like the Moulin Rouge and the notorious Chat Noir. Lautrec even painted the rabble-rouser Bruant in portrait with his trademark red scarf flung over his neck: it is still one of Lautrec’s most recognizable images.

When one examines the posters and portraits Lautrec created, a totality much different from that which is propagated in mainstream art criticism comes to light – the women are sad, drunk and hopeless, the men blank-eyed at best or hideously priapic at worst – and Lautrec begins to emerge not as a forerunner to today’s parasitic advertising brand manager but as a terribly wounded artist whose own physical disability left him with a hard-eyed (his portraits are far from what could be considered “bleeding heart” in nature) sympathy for the plight of the marginalized and oppressed, especially women.

Lautrec was close with two other radical political and artistic figures of the day: Felix Feneon and Alfred Jarry. Feneon was a vitally important anarchist writer and proselytizer for the Arts; Jarry created the groundbreaking play “Ubu Roi", about a dumpy cutthroat who murders his way to the top of the political heap by poisoning his enemies with a used toilet brush. Feneon helped popularize the painter’s work, which allowed him to subtly subvert the purpose of those advertising posters with social commentary; Jarry asked Lautrec to paint the background for “Ubu Roi” which would, upon opening night, set to flame one of the greatest artistic and philosophic conflagrations in history. It is a pleasure to imagine the three men together; Feneon tall and devilishly bearded, Lautrec and Jarry both miniature, maniacal demons, all three loaded to the gills on absinthe and arguing desperately about the importance of the past and the hopelessness of the future.

Perhaps the greatest sin against Lautrec is the abominable film “Moulin Rouge”, written and directed by Baz Lurhmann, whose other primary “credits” center upon an Australian television series about a family of veterinarians (he also directed "Romeo + Juliet", the slick, shallow version of Shakespeare's classic). The film is full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms both intentional and hilariously moronic. “Moulin Rouge” portrays Lautrec as a happy-go-lucky-life-of-the-party dwarf and the star of the Moulin Rouge as a gorgeous, lithe woman played by Nicole Kidman. Anyone who examines Lautrec’s work will see the fraud immediately: Weber’s nickname was “La Goulue” (“The Glutton”) and the moniker was well deserved; she was notoriously greedy for money, food and drink and by the high point of her career was as round as a beach ball. The only thing the film gets right was the fact that she was red-headed; Lautrec loved redheads and painted them almost exclusively: he claimed they smelled differently than other women. On the basis of these inaccuracies alone (not to mention the music – watching Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sung by a chorus of tap-dancing dandies is terribly painful) the film should be dismissed as hackery of the worst and crudest sort.

If all of this historical misinformation is taken into account there is really no surprise that The New York Times doesn’t fully understand the implications of “The Laundress”. The Times says it’s “…Not Bawdy”, but a little research will tell you that laundry women in turn of the century Paris were commonly forced into prostitution in order to survive. With a simple image Lautrec is able to convey more heartbreak and longing, more disgust with the emerging dominance of commodification than all the pages of the radical manifestoes of the time.

Lautrec, like most artists who find themselves horrified by the degradations of humanity, drank himself to death at an early age. He carried a hollow cane that was always full of a half liter of absinthe and a glass – his motto was “drink little but often” – and he died cursing his idiotic father. His life and Art were dedicated to seeking something beyond the quotidian, above the harsh delineations of value and price preached by a society just discovering the orgy of self-sale. “The Laundress” is priceless beyond the record set by The New York Times and Christie’s auction house, but not for the reasons they imagine.
Kirk
I can't believe his cane held a half liter.
Hemingway's Hangover
A half-liter and a glass...

"The reason I can drink safely, madam, is that I'm already so close to the ground."
absinthist
"Let's go and see the puppets dance (...) No, don't worry about it, drinking doesn't do me any harm...What, I am so close to the ground? What of it? I drink only the best. How can it be bad?"

The hollow cane consisted, according to the witnesses, of 250 ml of cognac and 250 ml of absinthe which was a potion at just circa 56.5 % abv per day so the usual dose abs-cheers.gif Nevertheless, Lautrec was believed (and there is a painting when it is clearly shown; "At the Moulin de la Galette", 1889, now in Art Institute of Chicago) to be drying 13 absinthe glasses during one night in Moulin de la Galette chickawow.gif
Absomphe
Although the original Moulin Rouge is a far, far better piece of film making than the recent musical travesty, I was disappointed that they only portrayed Laytrec as a cognac drinker, and never once showed him pouring it out of his cane.
Kirk
My cane is bigger than his, the entire cane is a flask, it holds 225 Ml.
His cane is smaller and only a portion of it held liquid.
I can't believe his cane held half a liter.
Jaded Prole
He was shorter than your cane.
Kirk
Maybe it was the "equivalent" of half a liter, like dog years.
Nymphadora
QUOTE(Kirk @ Apr 24 2007, 05:50 AM) *

My cane is bigger than his,
His cane is smaller




Always a size issue with you guys.
Absomphe
This coming from an ardent fan of Anna Nicole.

Pot...kettle, Pork Rinds. tongue.gif
Jaded Prole
QUOTE
always a size issue with you guys.


My wife discerns "inches" form "man inches" the latter being at least one and a half larger than the former.
absinthist
QUOTE(Absomphe @ Apr 24 2007, 05:19 AM) *

Although the original Moulin Rouge is a far, far better piece of film making than the recent musical travesty, I was disappointed that they only portrayed Laytrec as a cognac drinker, and never once showed him pouring it out of his cane.


Films always lie blink.gif , the best Henri's biography I have read was this:

http://www.biography-clarebooks.co.uk/item4930.htm

I believe someone should find Henri's cane if it is not on display in his museum, but:

http://www.goantiques.com/search/item_deta...;source=VYZ4474

And cognac in the heyday was much better than nowadays, of course.

Kirk
The canes I have seen that were supposed to be his have a small cordial glass and a corked test tube inside.
I probably don't know what the real one looks like though.
Jaded Prole
I hear you could trip ballz™ on that vintage cognac!
absinthist
Wait till' Neptunati reads it, he will share his theory...
hartsmar
Posted before - here it is again: Tippling canes
Kirk
I'm still trying to sell my silver and gold one, if anyone makes me a fair offer, it's theirs.
Jaded Prole
A stunningly beautiful piece. Whoever gets it will be truly fortunate.









I wish I had the dough to make an offer.
grey boy
Agreed™.
Steyr850
It is incredible. I remember seeing the pics of it in the 'field'. Just stunning work.

Hmmm. I got a Bike I really should sell.
Neptunati
QUOTE(absinthist @ Apr 24 2007, 12:21 PM) *

Wait till' Neptunati reads it, he will share his theory…



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