Well known as a familiar face around the nightclubs of Belle-Époque Paris, Toulouse-Lautrec was an equally sociable host when he was chez lui, often celebrating the completion of a new artwork with food and drink for his amis.

As well his famously explosive cocktails (the headache-inducing Earthquake was three parts absinthe to three parts cognac), he is credited with the invention of cocktail food (yes, we have the great artist to thank for nibbles) but not many people know that he also authored a cookery book.

His friend, the Symbolist poet Paul Leclercq, said: “He was a great gourmand. He always carried a little grater and a nutmeg to flavour the glasses of port he drank. He loved to talk about cooking and knew of many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes, for in this, as in all else, Lautrec had a hatred of useless frills.” He added:

According to Lautrec, the exact amount of cooking, the quality of the butter and the spices, and a great deal of care were the secrets of keeping a good table.

Paul Leclerq

So keen was Toulouse-Lautrec on cooking – which he considered, incidentally, to be an artform – that he gathered quite the collection of recipes which, it’s believed, he intended to put together in a book. Sadly, his untimely death aged 36 in 1901 put paid to that idea – until his childhood chum, art dealer and fellow gourmand Maurice Joyant came across the recipes amongst his belongings after his death and set about preserving them. In 1930, The Art of Cuisine by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant was published. 

The book contains some 150 recipes which reveal the artist’s endlessly inventive mind (and palate), many of which, sadly, have not stood the test of time. Got guests coming over for the weekend? Perhaps you could try them on stewed turbot livers. Or maybe treat them to ring doves with olives, a dish Toulouse-Lautrec served only to his favourites. He is quoted as saying of people he disliked:

They are not worthy of ring doves with olives, they will never have any and they will never know what it is.


He was an accomplished cook, pulling off dishes such as slow-cooked lamb and lobster à l’américaine with aplomb, and would delight his guests with menus he’d painstakingly decorated with perhaps a watercolour or lithograph.

There is a gruesomely playful tone to his recipes – take this one, for Roast Pike from the Somme: “Having taken with cast and spoonbait a female pike of nineteen pounds three hundred and fifty grams, scale your fish, stick it with lardoons, anchovies, and slices of cornichon. Fill up the belly with a stuffing made of meat seasoned with spices; sew it up again and swathe the fish in slices of bacon. Put it on the spit before a big wood fire and pour over it some good white wine and butter. At the moment of serving, untie and arrange the fish on a big dish, and serve it with a piquant white sauce made from the skimmed liquid.”

Then there’s the poor old porpoise: “When mounted on the bowsprit of a cutter you have harpooned a porpoise in the English Channel, open it lengthwise and take from it some nice fillets of fish. Scald them, stick them with lardoons, and let them brown in a pot with oil, garlic, onion, shallot, and flour; moisten with half a litre of water and half a litre of red wine; add salt, pepper, nutmeg, pimento, clove, and a bouquet garni; let it simmer on a small fire; add carrots and potatoes. Skim before serving.”

When mounted on the bowsprit of a cutter you have harpooned a porpoise in the English Channel, open it lengthwise and take from it some nice fillets of fish.

Toulouse-Lautrec – The Art of Cuisine

Other recipes alarming to modern-day diners include Thrushes with Juniper, Fillet of Herons (“the rest of the heron is only nerves and bones”) and Stewed Marmots (“put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women”). Thankfully, there is also a variety of more appetising dishes, such as bouillabaisse, wild boar and cassoulet, as well as a selection of soups, sauces, vegetable dishes and desserts.

Ever the convivial host, the book contains some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s suggested menus too. How about:

  • Salad with Ardennes ham 
  • Jellied pike with red wine 
  • Thrushes en cocotte 
  • Tarts with cherry plums 
  • Cheese 
  • Dessert

… Or perhaps stick to the nibbles!

The Art of Cuisine by Toulouse-Lautrec & Maurice Joyant is published by Macmillan

The Art of Cuisine on Amazon

Toulouse-Lautrec Basic Art Series


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