Monday, November 24, 2008

Tribute: Happy Birthday, Toulouse-Lautrec

By Sharon McDaniel

I didn't know it at the time — the great painter was attracted to redheads.

I'm a musician, but hell: Beauty is beauty. In a dream-of-a-lifetime experience, I discovered a painting style that I'd never attributed to the French genius Toulouse-Lautrec.

Unlike his rowdier, oversize output, he barely shows you the face of the red-headed woman. She stands simply; her head turned away.

Nothing distinguishes her surroundings. Her clothing — unlike so much over-the-top costuming in the artist's Moulin Rouge posters — is simple: a rumpled white shirt with long sleeves. She is a prostitute.

But my connection to her on a human level is immediate. I remember promenading past other paintings, but every three or four canvases later, I'd return to the unnamed redhead.

I'm still wracking my brain to remember where or when I saw her. Perhaps an exhibit of the French Impressionists at the Norton Museum. (See there? If she were a musician, I'd have no trouble remembering.)

No matter; she's a part of my life now; she's the image that comes to mind when I think of Toulouse-Lautrec nowadays. His "noisier," livelier images — the splashy posters and eye-catching graphic arts — were my first introduction. But this silent portrait continues to speak.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on this day: Nov. 24, 1864, in Albi, France. He died in Bordeaux on Sept. 9, 1901.

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