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Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's circus drawings

Video transcript
(circus music) Voiceover: Wearing a fur lined jacket and a stiff tutu, a performer slowly makes her way into the ring of the circus tent. Her horse knows the route by heart and plods along in front of her. In a few deft strokes, the artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec captured both sides of the circus, the glamour of the bright lights, an expectant audience and the weariness of the performer behind the scenes. The drawing now lives in the Getty Museum's collection. Lautrec made it in 1899 in a hospital room where he was being treated for alcoholism and dementia. While there, he made more than fifty circus scenes completely from memory. The subjects, acrobats, equestrian performers, animals were deeply familiar to him. He made the series to prove to his doctors that he was well again and it seems to have worked. When he was released from the clinic after only three months, he told a friend that he bought his freedom with his drawings. Lautrec was only four and a half feet tall and walked with a cane his whole life. To him, more so than for other spectators, the circus performers represented the perfection of muscle, nerves and technique. For Lautrec, the circus was the ideal spectacle, a great celebration of hilarity, glamour and squalor. Lautrec reveled in it. He went often and sketched prolifically. In the late 1800s, circuses, cabarets and dance halls had all become more and more popular with middle-class audiences. These activities offered a new way of participating in public life. People could see and be seen like never before. For the first time, artists began depicting scenes of regular people enjoying themselves. Auguste Renoir painted a couple promenading in the park. Edgar Degas sketched people at cafes and brothels. These and other artists used laundresses, prostitutes, cabaret and circus performers as models. They rendered their subjects in the moment, in the midst of a gesture or conversation. Everyday leisure and entertainment were now at the center of the image. Lautrec drew these scenes with unmatched honesty, capturing the here and now of modern life. (circus music)