This is the 110th anniversary of Toulouse-Lautrec's death, which makes it a good day to write about the Courtauld Gallery's current show devoted to his relationship with the Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril. (This is another one you'll have to be quick to see -- it closes on 18 September.)
Toulouse-Lautrec met Avril (real name: Jeanne Beaudon) in the 1880s, when both were in their 20s; she soon became a close friend of the artist and a frequent model. Both had already been through considerable sorrow. Toulouse-Lautrec's problems are well-known. Avril was abused as a child and spent a good part of her adolescence in an insane asylum, being treated for chorea. Some critics suggested that her illness contributed to the development of her eccentric, violent dance style.
Toulouse-Lautrec's portraits of Avril seem to focus on her inner suffering. In his pictures her face inevitably looks weary and prematurely old. Yet the exhibition also includes photographs and depictions by other artists, which show that Avril did not, in fact, look like this; her looks were slightly unconventional, but her face was youthful and pretty, and she is often shown smiling.
Like all the Courtauld exhibitions I've been to, this one was very well-done and thought-provoking. I did find myself wishing that I had a better idea of exactly how Avril had danced. Presumably no film was made of her, and though many pictures catch her in mid-step, I didn't really get a feeling for what the overall routine would look like.