Art History School: Learn About the Art & Lives of Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustav Klimt, Frances Bacon, Edvard Munch & Many More

Artist and video­g­ra­ph­er Paul Priest­ly is an enthu­si­as­tic and gen­er­ous sort of fel­low.

His free online draw­ing tuto­ri­als abound with encour­ag­ing words for begin­ners, and he clear­ly rel­ish­es lift­ing the cur­tain to reveal his home stu­dio set up and self designed cam­era rig.

But we here at Open Cul­ture think his great­est gift to home view­ers are his Art His­to­ry School pro­files of well-known artists like Hen­ri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vin­cent Van Gogh.

An avid sto­ry­teller, he’s drawn to those with trag­ic his­to­ries — the deci­sion to piv­ot from imper­son­at­ing the artist, as he did with Van Gogh, to serv­ing as a reporter inter­est­ed in how such details as syphilis and alco­holism informed lives and careers is a wise one.

Priest­ly makes a con­vinc­ing case that Lautrec’s aris­to­crat­ic upbring­ing con­tributed to his mis­ery. His short stature was the result, not of dwarfism, but Pykn­odysos­to­sis (PYCD) a rare bone weak­en­ing dis­ease that sure­ly owed some­thing to his par­ents’ sta­tus as first cousins.

His appear­ance made him a sub­ject of life­long mock­ery, and ensured that the free­wheel­ing artist scene in Mont­martre would prove more wel­com­ing than the blue­blood milieu into which he’d been born.

Priest­ly makes a meal of that Demi-monde, intro­duc­ing view­ers to many of the play­ers.

He height­ens our appre­ci­a­tion for Lautrec’s mas­ter­piece, At the Moulin Rouge, by briefly ori­ent­ing us to who’s seat­ed around the table: writer and crit­ic Édouard Dujardin, dancer La Mac­arona, pho­tog­ra­ph­er Paul Secau, and “cham­pagne sales­man and debauchee” Mau­rice Guib­ert, who ear­li­er posed as a lech­er­ous patron in Lautrec’s At the Café La Mie.

Queen of the Can­can La Goulue hangs out in the back­ground with anoth­er dancer, the won­der­ful­ly named La Môme Fro­mage.

Lautrec places him­self square­ly in the mix, look­ing very much at home.

Con­sid­er that these names, like those of fre­quent Lautrec sub­jects acro­bat­ic dancer Jane Avril and chanteuse Yvette Guil­bert were as cel­e­brat­ed in Belle Epoque Mont­martre as many of the painters Lautrec rubbed shoul­ders with — Degas, Pis­sar­ro, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Manet.

In an arti­cle in The Smith­son­ian, Paul Tra­cht­man recounts how Lautrec dis­cov­ered the mod­el for Manet’s famous nude Olympia, Vic­torine Meurent, “liv­ing in abject pover­ty in a top-floor apart­ment down a Mont­martre alley. She was now an old, wrin­kled, bald­ing woman. Lautrec called on her often, and took his friends along, pre­sent­ing her with gifts of choco­late and flow­ers — as if court­ing death itself.”

Mean­while Degas sniffed that Lautrec’s stud­ies of women in a broth­el “stank of syphilis.”

Per­haps Priest­ly will delve into Degas for an upcom­ing Art His­to­ry School episode … there’s no short­age of mate­r­i­al there.

Above are three more of Paul Priestly’s Art His­to­ry School pro­files that we’ve enjoyed on Frances Bacon, Edvard Munch and Gus­tav Klimt. You can sub­scribe to his chan­nel here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Art His­to­ry Web Book

Art His­to­ri­an Pro­vides Hilar­i­ous & Sur­pris­ing­ly Effi­cient Art His­to­ry Lessons on Tik­Tok

Free Art & Art His­to­ry Cours­es 

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.