Saturday, April 26, 2014

Better To Lie On Your Back Than Lie On Your Knees

"A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive."
--Henri de Toulouse Lautrec on women in brothels

Pink Cities
Take all the boys to visit Venus, ply her
With sweets and brandy. Five flights up she lives
With a little monkey, a few canvases. The most
Closely regarded for a time became the one
Who owned the gaze. Once the most adored,
Now nailed, with her gal pals--the bored barmaid,
The woman gazing rapt at a plum. Others trafficked
In their images and made the money. She falls
Apart here. Some things never change.
No less than the damned above the altar
Does the black cat and the ambiguously placed
Hand signify. Bend her fingers into this
Text: I see, you see, cross me, blessed.

There's an anecdote that Toulouse-Lautrec knew the model for Manet's Olympia, Victorine Meurent, and would bring folks to visit her. She took to painting and music, but didn't get paid so much at either pursuit as she had at her first career. From the little I've skimmed, it looks like Manet was a real dick to Toulouse-Lautrec; maybe he was to everyone; maybe his arrogance was justified. I read Henry's refusal to let the model be forgotten as a sort of counter strike--even if there was some cold-bloodedness and mockery in his bringing the boys around, he's still seeing her as alive--not as a broken toy once animated only through genius.

Image: "Woman Lying on Her Back."

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