Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

In 1898, the Parisian art gallery owner Maurice Joyant photographed his childhood friend defecating on the beach at Le Crotoy, Picardie. The series of photos would have been forgotten, had Joyant’s friend not been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the acclaimed French painter. Their intention in taking these photos — and later allowing them to be published in postcard form — was unclear, but these photographs remain the earliest photographic testaments to celebrities behaving dubiously, a century before Internet made such indiscretions well-known and widespread.

By this time, Lautrec, who precociously displayed prodigious artistic talent earlier, was slowly going downhill. Earlier that year, Joyant arranged a one-man show for Lautrec in Goupil & Cie, the leading Parisian art dealership. The show was a total failure. Alcoholism and venereal diseases plagued Toulouse-Lautrec’s life, and he moved back in with his upper-class family, which disapproved risque subjects he depicted in his paintings. His uncle even set fire to some of his canvases. To humor Toulouse-Lautrec, Joyant would take him to the coast for yachting weekends and to England. They also regularly visited Le Crotoy, where a lot of French artists (including Jules Verne and Colette) vacationed. It was at Le Crotoy that the above photos were taken, a year before Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to an asylum, and three years before he finally succumbed to complications caused by alcoholism and syphilis in 1901.

Maurice Joyant would live for another thirty years and work harder than anyone to preserve his friend’s memory posthumously. He wrote extensively about his relationship with Toulouse-Lautrec and staged retrospectives to the painter in 1902, 1907 and 1914. Entrusted by Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents as executor of his paintings, he would also convince the painter’s mother, the Countess Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec to create a museum to the artist, where works rejected by the salons of Paris, were proudly displayed.