Friday, November 14, 2014

Albi & Toulouse-Lautrec

Taken from the bus to Albi, one of the few remaining roads in
France, intentionally planted with "plane" trees to provide shade for drivers.

Our second day in Toulouse, we decided to take a bus to Albi, a small city about an hour north, where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born. His best friend, art dealer Maurice Joyant, and mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, created a museum in Albi that houses the largest collection of his work in the world.

The Toulouse-Lautrec
museum and gardens
The museum is housed in an estate that belonged to his family, the Palais de la Berbie, next door to the cathedral of Sainte-Cecile, on the banks of the Tarn river. It was a true fortress with thick walls, lovely gardens, and classic medieval architecture.

Henri was born to wealthy parents and had an excellent education. But because his parents were first cousins, he had some genetic problems which resulted in easily broken bones. After both legs were broken in his childhood, they didn't heal properly and quit growing. He never reached an adult height.

Also, and maybe due to his deformities, he had an emotional affiliation with people on the fringes of society, like prostitutes and cabaret performers. Much of what he is known for are the portraits of dancers and brothel workers in their off-hours, when they spent time together, eating, talking, or just waiting for customers.

But in the museum there are numerous other portraits, drawings, and lithographic stones of famous aristocrats, advertising posters, flyers, and menus for restaurants. What impressed us so much was that his style borders on the cartoonish, but the faces of his subjects, the only thing that really mattered, were executed with sensitivity and skill. He had a true love of horses and painted many in various attributes, alone, ridden, harnessed, in circuses. Although he only lived to be 36, he was prolific in his output.

Some overhanging buildings!
We were not allowed to photograph inside the museum, but the collections are online at this website:  Toulouse-Lautrec

This time of year, many museums close between noon and 2:00. So we had lunch, wandered the gardens, and did the river walk. It's a beautiful little town with ancient bridges and medieval buildings. Some of the oldest buildings have upper stories that overhang the first because in medieval times, you paid taxes only on the square footage of the ground floor! In the center of old town, a new market has been built with a full service grocery on the ground floor and many independent butcher, chocolate, and bread shops on the upper floor. Modern as it looks, it fits with the character of the town, and boy are the pain de chocolats at the bakery good!!

The Tarn River and Albi 
Beautiful old bridge, still in use.
Inside the new market