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Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in "Chilpéric" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicts the artist’s favorite subject from the theater, Marcelle Lender, the red-headed actress.

Toulouse-Lautrec first encountered her when he began to attend the theater regularly, in 1893. His infatuation with her peak when she starred in the revival of Hervé’s “Chilpéric.”

Toulouse-Lautrec visited this operetta over twenty times, arriving just in time to see Lender dance the bolero in the second act. This painting shows Lender performing a bolero from the operetta.

Toulouse-Lautrec sketched and studied the actress producing six lithographs inspired by Lender’s appearance in Chilpéric and two paintings. However, his admiration was not reciprocated; she is said to have remarked.

What a horrible man!
He is very fond of me …., but as for the portrait, you can have it!”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was passionate about the Paris Theater, dance halls, and cabarets. He was also a prolific contributor, designing posters, theater programs, scenery, and costumes for several theaters and stage productions.

Although he was drawn to the performance drama and spectacle, it was the performers who fascinated him.

Chilpéric Operetta

Chilpéric was a 19th-century French operetta with libretto and music by Hervé, first produced in Paris in 1868. It was a burlesque of the medieval King Chilpéric I and starred Hervé in the title role.

It was during a successful revival of the operetta in Paris in 1895, that was the background for this painting.

This comic operetta recounted the tale of Chilpéric, king of the Franks in the late sixth century.

To consolidate his power, he allied himself with the Visigoths in Spain through marriage to the princess Galeswinthe, even as his vengeful mistress plotted her murder.

Chilperic I (539 – 584) had repudiated his first wife, Audovera, and had taken as his concubine a serving-woman called Fredegund.

For his marriage to the Princess, he dismissed Fredegund and married Galswintha. But he soon tired of his new partner, and one morning Galswintha was found strangled in her bed. A few days afterward, Chilperic married Fredegund.

This murder was the cause of long and bloody wars, interspersed with truces, between Chilperic and his rival half-brother, Sigebert.

In 575, Sigebert was assassinated by Fredegund at the very moment when he had Chilperic at his mercy. Chilperic then attacked the protector of Sigebert’s wife and son.

Chilperic succeeded and expanded his claims into Austrasia Tours and Poitiers and some places in Aquitaine.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1864 – 1901), also known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, printmaker, caricaturist, and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, where his parents were members of a wealthy and aristocratic family.

His mother and father were first cousins, his grandmothers were sisters, and unfortunately, he suffered from congenital health conditions sometimes attributed to a family history of inbreeding. 

Modern physicians attribute his condition to an unknown genetic disorder, sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome.

His legs ceased to grow so that as an adult, he was extremely short (1.42 m or 4 ft 8 in). He developed an adult-sized torso while retaining his child-sized legs.

Physically unable to take part in many activities, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the arts from an early age.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed his second attempt and completed his studies.

Later, seeking independence from his mother, Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers.

Studying art in the heart of Montmartre, it became an area he rarely left over the next 20 years.

Unfortunately, Toulouse-Lautrec was mocked for his short stature and physical appearance, which led him to abuse alcohol. 

In addition to his growing alcoholism, Toulouse-Lautrec also frequented prostitutes. He was fascinated by their lifestyle and incorporated those characters into his paintings.

In 1901, at the age of 36, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis.

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric”

  • Title:                Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric”
  • Artist:              Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Year:                1896
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions     145 x 149 cm (57 1/16 x 58 11/16 in.)
  • Museum:          National Gallery of Art, DC


Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric,” 1895–1896, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A Tour of the National Gallery of Art

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ‘Bust of Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender’ 1895


“Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly
that you feel you could die of it.”

– Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Photo Credit: 1) By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec via Wikimedia Commons

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