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For once, Hollywood imitates art

01:00 Mon 29th Apr 2002 |

Q: In the movie Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec had a small role. Just how involved was he in the seedier side of Parisian nightlife.

A: For a mere �575,000 you can find out. A complete set of his lithographs 'Elles' is up for sale and features 12 portrayals of prostitutes going about their daily lives.

Q: So he was in the thick of things
A: Very much so as syphillis, and alcohol, along with the growth-inhibiting soft-bone condition, pycnodysostosis helped end his life early at the age of 37.

Q: Lived life to the full, then
A: He was so admired that the Moulin Rouge dance hall reserved a table for him every night, and displayed his paintings and sketches in the foyer.

Q: So was he always from the backstreets
A: Not at all. He was born in 1864 to aristocratic parents (who were also first cousins, which may have been one of the reasons for his disability) who lived in a very high social world. He just preferred the company he found around the Moulin Rouge.

Q: So did he turn his back on the luxury life
A: No entirely. He would only move in to the streets of Montmarte for short periods, usually a few weeks
�at a time, and would them return home for a while. In� fact he died at the family Chateau.

Q: Who did he paint
A: Dancers, prostitutes, bar girls. Whoever he found attractive or fascinating. He was trusted��implicity and these people were his genuine friends.

Q: But his pictures are not 'outrageous' are they
A: Not at all. Lautrec was fascinated by their lives and his art was a kind of latter-day documentary study.
He was not interested in portraying 'sex' but rather in� recording the prostitute's day to day life.
Q: Warts and all
A: One of his paintings (not part of the Elles series) shows prostitutes waiting in line to be examined for venereal disease.

Q: It was a successful partnership between a wealthy and quite brilliant artist and the seedier world of entertainers, the poor and the oppressed. Why did they get on so well
A: Lautrec was frequently ridiculed because of his appearance, but many were more tolerant in the lower social scales. They felt they �were outcasts and so was he.� It was a world in which he was welcomed - and also in which there was no lasting stigma about��people who wished to hide their sorrows in drink.

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