Monday, 19 October 2009

I am Toulouse-Lautrec

I was born in 1864 into a wealthy and aristocratic French family. My parents were first cousins. My eccentric father was a very keen hunter of animals and women. He liked to dress up in fanciful costumes like chain mail. He abandoned me and my mother for long periods while he was off somewhere devoting himself to his hobbies of hunting and lechery.
Perhaps due to my parents' consanguinity, I had a congenital weakness of the bones. I broke both of my legs during childhood. The bones stopped growing and remained weak, while the rest of my body grew into maturity. I was less than 5ft tall. By way of cruel compensation, nature rewarded me with a thick beard, a deep voice and a strong libido. I was fond of boasting that "I may be only a small coffee pot, but I have a big spout!"

Sadly, my bulbous nose, short-sighted eyes and large head on top of my ill-proportioned body, made me unattractive to women.

Much of my childhood was spent on my grandfather's estate, where my cousins and I played and studied together. My family encouraged my interest in art and in 1882 I moved to Paris with my mother to study art.

In 1886 I rented a studio in Montmartre and moved into a nearby apartment, which I shared with a medical student friend. I frequented seamy bars and cabarets, and my life settled into a regular pattern of painting, drinking and late nights.

I contracted syphilis and was addicted to absinthe, a highly toxic liqueur, 140 to 160 proof, flavored with wormwood and other herbs. It is now illegal in most countries, but in my day it was freely available.

During this time I produced some of my most brilliant work, despite my debauched lifestyle. I specialised in posters, book and magazine illustrations, and theatre programmes. The performers at the Moulin Rouge, notably Jane Avril and Aristide Bruant, were some of my most famous models.

It was fashionable for the beau monde to go slumming in the nightspots of Montmartre, where I rubbed shoulders with bons vivants like
EOscar Wilde and King Edward VII, and indeed did portraits of them both.

I spent much of my time in brothels, not only to enjoy the sexual favours of the girls, but because they were excellent models. I even had a permanent studio in my favourite brothel.

After a violent attack of delirium in 1899, I went to a private clinic for detox and for a while it seemed to work: I even started painting again. Tragically, my health was too far gone and I died in 1901 at the age of 36.

My eccentric father sat by my deathbed flicking flies away with my shoelaces. My last words,"Old fool!" were addressed to him.

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