Secret London: Toulouse-Lautrec in Catford

Say what you like about South London, but it clearly has something about it. Why else would a trinity of the world’s greatest 19th-century artists have come here?

You probably know about Vincent Van Gogh’s time in Brixton because of the play from a few years ago. Van Gogh lodged in Hackford Road, Brixton in 1873 and regularly walked from there to Covent Garden where he worked as an art dealer.

This is the only surviving picture he sketched during this period It’s of the Georgian houses on Hackford Road itself.

Van Gogh also lived in Isleworth in 1876, at 160 Twickenham Road, when he later returned to London as a teacher. Hackford Road now has an English Heritage blue plaque for Van Gogh, and there used to be a Van Gogh Cafe on Brixton Road, but it’s closed down.

Camille Pissarro painted around a dozen pictures of Sydenham and Dulwich during his time in South London in 1870. I particularly like this one, of Lordship Lane Station.

As Michael Glover writes in the Independent: ‘The painting shows us a new kind of modernity. Here is London being mightily transformed by the growth of housing and the ever onward thrust of the railways in the second half of the 19th century.’ Pissarro lived at No 77 Westow Hill and then on Palace Road, and married at Croydon Registry Office. He returned to London a number of times. Lordship Lane station was demolished in 1954. A non-English Heritage blue plaque adorns the site of his house on Westow Hill and a restaurant called Pissarro is in Chiswick, but I’m pretty sure that’s named after his son Lucien.

Best of all, though, is the fact that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did time in Catford in 1896. The diminutive brothel-loving soak was a huge fan of cycling and in 1896 was asked by a company called Simpson to work on a poster for their new bike, which used a new type of chain. This, according to Wiki, ‘was composed of linked triangles forming two levels. The inner level was driven by the chainring and the outer drove the rear cog. Instead of teeth, the chainring and cog had grooves into which the rollers of the chain engaged.’

I’m not sure what that means, and probably neither did Lautrec, so he came to the newly built Catford Velodrome to watch the bike in action during special races, set up by Simpson to advertise their product. Lautrec produced a couple of images during his visit. The poster was one of the last he designed before his death in 1901.

The velodrome was knocked down in the 1990s and there is no trace of it left (it’s location was approximately around Sportsbank Road), but there is at least a brasserie in Kennington called Toulouse-Lautrec.

But perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec had more influence on Catford than we may have thought?

Consider this, a famous poster advertising one of Lautrec’s favourite clubs by one of his contemporaries and very much in Lautrec’s style.

And this.

If you do not wish to go all the way to Catford to pay homage, an exhibition of Lautrec’s work goes on display later in June at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, where you can also see Pissarro’s lovely picture of Lordship Lane Station.

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3 responses to “Secret London: Toulouse-Lautrec in Catford

  1. Great article! I still maintain that Hackford Road is in Stockwell rather than Brixton, but since “Van Gogh in Stockwell” would be a rubbish title for a play, Brixton it was. I also had a wry smile at the scene in which Van Gogh and his landlady lay in the garden listening to a peal of bells, since there wouldn’t have been one in earshot at that time (all the nearby churches either being too small or not yet having been finished).

    You might also want to consider Guillaume Apollinaire, poet, co-founder of surrealism and pornographer (among many other things), who lived in London for a while and wrote L’Emigrant de Landor Road, about a woman he loved who lived in Clapham. As you say, what is it about the French and South London.

  2. It’s definitely Stockwell, isn’t it? What was I thinking.

    I will research Apollinaire, sounds very interesting.

  3. fantastic. I live in Catford and now I can really give it when people say “Catford?”

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