Between 1890 and 1910 , an artistic and literary revolution was taking place in France in which creation flourished as its creators slowly faded away, usually due to drug use and sexually transmitted diseases.
One of the most famous examples of these bohemians was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Due to a congenital bone disorder, Lautrec broke both his legs at a young age and they never healed properly, leaving him a dwarf.
His physical inadequacies caused him to be ridiculed and marginalized. His mental state was already questionable, but he took to drowning his sorrows in absinthe and can-can dancers.
Fortunately, Lautrec’s frequent excursions to the Moulin Rouge, an eccentric bohemian night club and dance hall in Montmartre, France, would lead him to become an incredible artist.
The Moulin Rouge became the setting of Lautrec’s most famous pieces, the people within it becoming the subjects. He painted dancers, prostitutes and aristocratic nightclub goers.
On Feb. 27, students from the AP European History, AP Art History, and AP/Advanced Art classes travelled to the Crocker Art Museum to see an exhibition centered around Lautrec called “La Vie Moderne.”
AP Euro teacher Daniel Neukom was disappointed with the selection of pieces in the display. The exhibit had very few real Toulouse-Lautrec pieces, and none of his famous Impressionist paintings.
“I knew that (the students) would enjoy the poster art because that was one of the classic aspects of that time,” said Neukom. “(However) I was hopeful they would have at least a couple of famous original paintings as well and they didn’t, and that was deeply disappointing to me.”
What little there was to see at the museum, however, was beautiful. The works of Toulouse-Lautrec certainly make an impact on the viewers. For Neukom, this impact comes in the form of Lautrec’s short stature.
“[Because of his dwarfism] he felt only at ease when he was with a night society and he could kind of hide in the shadows. For a man of that talent, gosh, what a shame,” says Neukom.
AP Art student Camille Locke was also struck by the night life as depicted by the French bohemians. “I feel that was a lot of unhappiness disguised in that time,” Locke said. “The rich looked miserable, but the dancers who were selling their bodies looked like they were having the time of their lives.”
Toulouse-Lautrec’s pieces have become famous for their depiction of the eccentric night life of Montmartre, but by visiting the Crocker exhibit, students barely got a look into the works of this infinitely interesting personality.
Next time, we hope the Crocker can provide a more interesting visit.