Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
One of the greatest post-Impressionist artists, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec stood out for his short stature, his impressive, umm, length, and his way with hookers. Born in 1864, he died on September 9th 1901.
So who was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec?
A product of inbreeding - his aristocratic parents were first cousins - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from a condition that left him with the legs of a child, the body of an adult and the member, sources insist, of a donkey: in fact, the Montmartre prostitutes knew him as "The Tripod".
One of the great talents of post-Impressionist art, a friend of Van Gogh, a wit, a flaneur, and a prolific producer of prints, posters and paintings, Toulouse-Lautrec packed a whole lot of living into his 30-something years.
Where did he drink?
Toulouse-Lautrec made his way rapidly to Paris' most decadent nightspots, the kinds of places where girls danced the can-can knickerless, while artists and flaneurs watched them over absinthe. He could be seen drinking, laughing and, typically, sketching as well in Le Rat Mort, the Moulin Rouge, the Mirlinot and more.
What did he drink?
Henri seems to have begun drinking beer and wine as a way to bolster his self-esteem against the constant, unkind comments about his size, and progressed rapidly to phenomenal quantities of absinthe, cognac and, first thing in the morning, cheap rum.
Yet he was also a pioneer of cocktails in France. He created The Earthquake, a potent blend of absinthe and cognac, for a cabaret singer, as well as the Maiden Blush, an innovative blend of absinthe, red wine, bitters, champagne and mandarin liqueur. In fact, he liked nothing better than to dress up as a true American bartender and knock out the drinks.
Any famous drinking buddies?
Toulouse-Lautrec knew pretty much everyone who was anyone in late nineteenth-century Paris, though many of his closest friendships were with prostitutes, who he painted, lived with and treated as his equals.
He was close enough to Vincent Van Gogh to challenge a Belgian to a duel on his behalf, and painted him with a glass of absinthe; he shared a lover with Edouard Degas, who hated him; he worked on a magazine with the writer André Gide, the poet Paul Verlaine and the composer Claude Debussy, among others; and the proto-surrealist Alfred Jarry was his spiritual twin.
How did drink change his life?
It would have been hard to produce the art that Toulouse-Lautrec produced - the art of late-night clubs, decadent bars and brothels - without living a life close to the life he led. And, until the last few years of his life, when syphilis combined with alcoholism, he remained quite stunningly productive.
And yet... He was institutionalised once for alcoholism. He suffered from DTs so bad that friends once found him sitting up in bed shooting at an invasion of imaginary spiders. And, whether it was the booze or the syphilis that finally killed him, his last couple of years were a hellish welter of paranoia and madness.
Any drinking stories?
Henri could manage quite an aristocratic hauteur for a small man, and once called the former King of Serbia "A pig farmer" at a gallery opening.
Booze brought out his natural Bohemian desire to outrage, which he did in spades, particularly when accompanying his staid parents. At one point, he acquired a tame cormorant and took it everywhere with him: he even taught the bird to drink absinthe.