In the end, the works did help Toulouse-Lautrec persuade his guardians to set him free, but the curtains of the carnival world, in which every day is a holiday, closed forever on Toulouse-Lautrec at the age of 36 in 1901.
What makes “Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre” ultimately so compelling is its contemporary resonance. More than a century separates us from Toulouse-Lautrec’s era, yet we are struck by a moral proximity that holds a mirror to our own time. After all, we live in the modern phase of the very celebrity culture that was born on the slopes of Montmartre.
The media have changed, of course. Montmartre’s colossal entertainment complexes and the color lithographs that publicized them have given way to the television and motion-picture screens and the entertainment magazines that crown or dethrone the star of the moment.
Still, the message remains the same: For most, celebrity is fleeting, and the same machinery of the spectacular that awards fame to youth withdraws it as a new generation, by the very novelty of its appearance, pushes the older one aside, mindless of whether its talents were genuine or only beguiling tricks of the mirrors and lights of the stage.
Thomas Singer, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University, is writing a book on Marcel Duchamp.