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One should drink little - but often

- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901

In his late teens, Lautrec was honored to become a student of the artist Fernand Cormon, Paris, whose studio was located on that hill above the city, Montmartre. When he graduated from Cormon's studio, Lautrec gave himself up fully to the bohemian life, spending much of his time drinking and carousing - and constantly sketching - in cabarets, racetracks, and brothels.

His stunted physique earned him laughs and scorn, and kept him from experiencing many of the physical pleasures offered in Montmartre, a sorrow that he drowned in alcohol. At first it was beer and wine. Then brandy, whiskey, and the infamous absinthe found their ways into his life. Art and alcohol were his only mistresses, and they were mistresses to which he devoted all of his time and energy. He was doing one or both almost every day of his life until he died.

Those of you who have seen the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge!, might have noticed that Toulouse-Lautrec actually is one of the characters in it - the artist portrayed by John Leguizamo. In the 1952 movie by the same name, Moulin Rouge (a movie about the life of Toulouse-Lautrec) the character was portrayed by José Ferrer.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (24 November 1864 - 9 September 1901) was a French painter, printmaker and illustrator. Already at early ages it was clear that the talent of Lautrec was in painting and drawing and his parents supported him in progressing. A friend of his father, Rene Princeteau visited from time to time and helped him with technique. It was from him that he learned to draw horses, something he made use of frequently in his Circus Paintings and posters. His mother used the family influence to get Henri into the studio of Léon Bonnat, an acclaimed portrait painter, in Paris.

Toulouse-Lautrec's Short-comings

In his early teens, Henri fractured his both his thigh bones. These did not heal properly probably caused by an unknown genetic disorder. Supposedly this was due to a certain amount of inbreed given that his mother and father were in fact first cousins. This in turn led to his legs ceasing to grow which is the cause of his stunted physique. With a grown man's upper body but legs only 70 cm long, Toulouse-Lautrec was no more than 1.54 meters tall. A fact that caused him much sorrow and pain by the mockery from others.

Enter Parisian bohemian life

The studio of Bonnat was located right in the heart of Montmartre, a place Lautrec came to love for the rest of his rather short life. Rare were the occassions on which he left Montmartre.

In 1882 Lautrec was accepted into the studio of Fernan Cormon and studied there for five years. It was during this time that he met the people who would be his friends for the rest of his life, Vincent Van Gogh was one.

During the beginning of the 1890's Lautrec did a series of posters for the newly opened cabaret, the Moulin Rouge and some other nightclubs in Paris. This paid him not only money but also a reserved seat at the cabaret. A place he frequented often enough and fuelled his alcoholism with more than a few absinthes.

Depicted on the posters were some of Paris' beautiful famous ladies at the time; singer Yvette Guilbert, dancer Jane Avril and not to forget dancer Louise Weber - creator of the "French Can-Can". The making of these posters took him on business to London for work during which time he got to know Oscar Wilde. Lautrec painted a portrait of Wilde the same year as Wilde was on trial and faced imprisonment.

Tremblement de Terre - Lautrec and absinthe

Life in fin-de-siècle Paris was hard on Lautrec and his health to say the least and his alcoholism became more and more of a problem. Moving on from beer and wine to stronger drinks like cognac, brandy and absinthe, in high volume, he was on a steep hill - rolling down quickly.

The absinthe cocktail "Earthquake" or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to be the creation of Toulouse-Lautrec. It is a potent cocktail made of half absinthe and half cognac, sometimes served with ice or shaken in a shaker filled with ice. Not something for the faint of heart.

On a sidenote though, mixing a regular absinthe drip with absinthe and iced water, adding 1cl Cognac to 3cl absinthe before adding the water actually makes a very nice drink.

But then again, Lautrec is told to have said; "One should drink little, but often"
The question is wether or not he took much notice about the "little" himself.

His alcoholism went so far that he actually hade a hollow cane specially made for him, in which he could keep glass vials with absinthe or other liqour so that he could have a drink whenever he "needed" one. Such canes are today often referred to as "Toulouse-Lautrec canes" or "Tippling canes".

Lautrec's affection for absinthe have later led to the creation of what is almost certainly a fake absinthe spoon carrying the Lautrec signature.

Au revoir...

At the age of 36 Lautrec passed away at the family estate in Malormé. After his death, his mother and his art dealer promoted his art and his mother would later fund a museum in Albi, his birthplace, to show his works. The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum owns the world's largest collection of works by Lautrec.

A selection of works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

These are but a fraction of the several hundreds of wonderful paintings, posters and sketches that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec created during his rather short career of less than 20 years.


Written by Markus Hartsmar

- absinthe books and poetry -

Many writers "of old" wrote poems or passages about absinthe. Some drank it, some didn't. Find some of them here as well as reviews and notes on modern books about absinthe.  


- latest news and additions -

The Absinthe Poetry section has seen several updates the past days. Poems and information about more authors; Antonin Artaud, Arthur Symons, Francis Saltus Saltus, Florence Folsom and Robert Loveman. Open your mind and have a drink while you enjoy their lyrics. 


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