Today is the birthday of the great painter and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). We celebrate him today of course as the great chronicler of the variety scene at Paris’s Moulin Rouge and other contemporary venues in the late 19th century. Cinema was still in its infancy; even still photography was still expensive and cumbersome and liable to blur an object in motion. For a sense of the life and vibrancy of the era in action we must rely on artists like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. In addition to the beauty of his works we are indebted to him for his record of a time and place, and an introduction to subjects such as these can-can dancers:
And these studies of the great chanteuse Yvette Guilbert, who also was a smash in American vaudeville:
And here is what it was like on the floor of the club:
And in the audience:
Toulouse-Lautrec also was a great chronicler of the circus of his day, but that seems a natural to hold in reserve for a future post.
While hard living in this decadent scene provided Toulouse-Lautrec with his inspiration, it also meant his early death at age 36. Prostitutes = syphilis; alcoholism = organ failure.
For more on the history of the variety arts consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc