TOULOUSE-LAUTREC AS HORSE PAINTER
By RICHARD CARREÑO
[WC News Service]
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is best known as France's shortest painter, never more than 4 feet, 8 inches. That and -- even by the hard-core middle-brow, the kind of folk who used to troll the once-ubiquitous shopping mall 'art' shops -- for his Belle Époque-era poster prints of Jane Avril, Aristide Bruant, and other habitués of the louche world that the diminutive roué made his own in late 19th-century Paris, principally in the seedier precincts of Montmartre.
There's also the wild-and-crazy guy of movie fame, many popular books, and of an even an abortive West End musical production, written by Charles Aznavour, which lasted all of about three months in 2000.
But 'Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque,' a current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts here, another, lesser-known side of the intense Art Nouveau practitioner is explored. That of horse painter. Who knew? My bad.
While his contemporary Edgar Dégas was well known as the painter of dancers and horses, I learned for the first time (and I think you will too) that the early work of Toulouse-Lautrec was all about horses -- until he sank in alcoholism and a dissolute lifestyle among prostitutes and low-life, leading to an early death at thirty-six.
I was smitten by Toulouse-Lautrec's back-story, as well.
The fact, for example, that he was the son of near-do-well aristocratic family from the south, born Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa; that as a boy (despite the stunted growth of his legs) rode horses; was a rail-bird; and knew enough about stag hunting on horseback that his last words, addressed to his father, were said be, 'I knew. papa, that you wouldn't miss 'l'hallali.' Hallali, being the piercing phonetic cry that huntsmen employ when their prey is run to ground.
The exhibit, which runs to 30 October, is comprehensive; many of the original well-known poster favourites are displayed -- in varying stages of printing.
It is also a brilliant eye-opener to a much deeper understanding of the complexity and scope of Toulouse-Lautrec's work and his tortured, physically-challenged life.
The Phillips Collection in Washington co-curated the show.