I have always been a pencil

This post is a small tribute to the French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, born this day, November 24, 149 years ago.  Lautrec’s “immersion in the colourful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 1800s yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times.”  (Wikipedia)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawing of Oscar Wilde, 1896

I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.


His view of his subjects is uniquely sympathetic without being sentimental, which means he neither revels pruriently in degradation nor edits out ugliness.  … there is perceptiveness, which entails empathy, but without flattery.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Portrait of Suzanne Valadon

I paint things as they are. I don’t comment. I record.


Lautrec’s pictures of prostitutes and brothels draw on such fragile, ephemeral and unfinished effects to convey the impression of lives lived largely in a state of boredom, occasionally touched with glamour and often weighted with weariness and the apprehension of encroaching age.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Woman Arranging her Hair, 1891

A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.
(on women in the brothel)


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Drawing of a Young Woman

I have always been a pencil.


There is always a dark and even desperate edge to the world that Toulouse-Lautrec depicts. Poverty, disease, abuse and alcoholism were the realities behind the illusion of pleasure and gaiety; but no one could capture the animation and excitement of that world as effectively as he did, without ever glossing over the perennial presence of death as its necessary and ineluctable shadow, hinted at in gaunt features and exhausted bodies.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Alone, 1896

In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new;
they see their value and their justification in this newness.
They are deceiving themselves…

And as a parting blessing:

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.


Comments are from art critic Christopher Allen in Dancing with the Demimonde, a review of the National Gallery of Australia exhibition – Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge.

Read the whole review at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/dancing-with-the-demimonde/story-fn9n8gph-1226572904458#sthash.Eay9pvrn.dpuf

at last I don’t know how to draw!

be not afraid of beauty


Henri Matisse: Red Studio

Henri Matisse: Red Studio

I am a lover of beauty. I’m no philosopher and I can’t define beauty, but like everyone I know, I can spot it – or its absence. It expresses itself in an infinity of guises within the world of the arts, but these days it seems to be shy and requires some effort to be found. Frankly, most of what’s celebrated as “high art” in galleries and texts today leaves me covertly looking for the exits. So I was cheered to read Australian art critic Christopher Allen stating the case for beauty in a review of an exhibition of work by Berlinde de Bruyckere. These are the final paragraphs of his review.

There is a long history in the modernist tradition of assuming the beautiful must be a lie and that ugliness must be evidence of truth. One can understand the origin of this idea in a reaction against ossified academic standards, and simultaneously a revulsion against the hypocrisy of society. The modern world has seen more systematic moral dishonesty than any previous age, from Victorian moralism to political propaganda of all sorts and the manipulations of contemporary commercial culture.

But it is nonetheless a fallacy, like the mistaken assumption that cynicism is more likely to be correct than good faith. We have to reflect that if optimism can sometimes be stupidity, pessimism can often be cowardice. Hope and aspiration, even idealism, can be powerful forces for understanding the world; beauty, when real and not illusory, can be the deepest manifestation of the real. Truth, above all, is profoundly complex, and is never found in the self-indulgence of nihilism.

– Christopher Allen,  The Weekend Australian, 23.06.12

To read the complete review: click here