These, for me, are the two most depressing paintings in western history. They were painted by post-impressionist Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, a man who, due to inbreeding, was born with a genetic disorder that prevented his legs from growing after they were broken. After being so thoroughly mocked for is appearance, he became an alcoholic, which is what eventually caused his institutionalization and death. His only known romantic relations were with prostitutes.
And then he paints something like this which is so beautiful and tender and sentimental. It seems like the couple in bed really loves each other—cares about each other. Wakes up happy to look at each other. And I see that love and passion and I wonder how lonely he must have been. I wonder how he could paint something like this without it breaking his heart.
Maybe they say artists should create what they know, not because its unbelievable when they extend themselves beyond their experiences, but because when they pull it off with such elegance, it’s so damn unbearable to look at. I hate thinking of Lautrec, wondering about the lovers he created and knowing it was beyond his experience. Creating something that he knows is beautiful and knows he’ll never really understand.
I think mental illness is the worst of anything. The hierarchy of suffering is sort of bound into our society. But my personal experience is that the isolation and anguish of severe mental illness was much worse than…having something physical that people could understand better.