BY EMILY CATRICE / What made the Belle Époque so memorable? The answer may vary depending on one’s drink of choice; it must have gone by awfully fuzzily for a certain fast-living lot.

If there’s a single art historical misfit-bon vivant really known for reveling hard in the spirit of the age, it’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A stranger to neither the finer things nor the seedy side of life, the born aristocrat-cum-Post-Impressionist frequented glittering café-concerts and back alley brothels alike, developing a penchant-turned-serious-problem with drink along the way.

Stunted by a bone disease hiding in his family’s shallow gene pool, Toulouse-Lautrec perhaps somewhat understandably sought solace in readily available liquid comforts in the face of society’s, even his own relatives’, derision. He eventually sidled past beer and champagne towards sterner stuff, particularly delighting in absinthe.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec drinking absinthe circa 1885 in the company of Lucién Metivet

His favourite beverage? L’Earthquake. He’s even been credited with inventing the original gullet-eviscerating version of the cocktail, for which an inadvisable recipe reads:

  • 3 parts cognac
  • 3 parts absinthe

Combine ingredients in a wine goblet and enjoy.

Were the ground to shake, rattle, roll and fissure, its drinker was said to be sure not to mind much. Given all brandies’ ability to stupefy and the unadulterated wormwood content of nineteenth-century absinthe, a few knocked back ‘quakes surely blurred the edges right off some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s rougher nights and engulfed him in bottomless hangovers on even rougher mornings-after. And what makes a more effective or habit forming cure than a hair of the green fairy that bit you? – Emily Catrice

Sources: Julia Bloch Frey, Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life, New York: Viking Press, 1994
Clayton Hartley, “The Earthquake Cocktail”, October 2010, The New Sheridan Club Blog

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