Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

In 1898, Maurice Joyant photographed a childhood friend defecating on the beach. The photos would have been forgotten, had Joyant’s friend not been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the acclaimed painter. Their intentions in taking these photos — and later publishing postcards of them — were unclear, but they remain the earliest photographic testaments to celebrities behaving dubiously, a century before Internet made such indiscretions well-known and widespread.

By this time, the career of Lautrec, who had been precociously talented, was slowly going downhill. Earlier that year, Joyant himself a Parisian gallery owner, arranged a one-man show for Lautrec in Goupil & Cie, the leading Parisian art dealership. The show was a failure. Alcoholism and venereal diseases were now swirling around the painter and he returned to live with his upper-class family, which disapproved his risqué subjects and paintings and his uncle set fire to some of his canvases.

To humor Henri, Joyant would take him to the coast for yachting weekends and to England. They also regularly visited Le Crotoy in Picardie, where a lot of French artists (including Jules Verne and Colette) vacationed. It was on that beach that the above photos were taken, a year before de Toulouse-Lautrec was finally 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 else to preserve his friend’s memory. He wrote extensively about his relationship with Toulouse-Lautrec and staged retrospectives. Entrusted by Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents as executor of his friend’s  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.