Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec biography
Henri-Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa, was born into an aristocratic family on November 24th 1864 at Albi, Tarn, in the Hôtel du Bosc, not to confuse with the Château du Bosc, Aveyron. His mother, Adèle Tapié de Celeyran, married her cousin Alphonse, count of Toulouse-Lautrec, a brilliant horseman with a passion for hunting and horses. Count Alphonse was a notorious eccentric known for all kinds of unpredictable behavior: from washing his socks in the river (unheard of for an aristocrat!) to galloping off to a hunt wearing outlandish costumes, to simply disappearing for long stretches of time.
The young Henri never became very close to him still, Henri grew up between the Château du Bosc and the Château de Céleyran, near Narbonne by the Mediterranean Sea. Unknown at the time, Henri suffered from a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly. Fatefully, at age twelve, he broke his left leg. And at age fourteen, he broke his right leg. Both legs ceased to grow, while the rest of his body continued to grow normally. At maturity, Lautrec was 4 1/2 feet tall. But his great misfortune was a sort of blessing in disguise, at least from our perspective. After his accidents he was no longer able to follow his father in the typically aristocratic pastimes of riding and hunting. Instead, he focused on sketching and painting.
In his late teens, Lautrec was honored to become a student of the artist Fernand Cormon, whose studio was located on the hill above Paris, Montmartre. When he graduated from Cormon's studio, Lautrec gave himself up fully to the bohemian life, spending much of his time drinking and carousing — and constantly sketching — in cabarets, racetracks, and brothels. His stunted physique earned him laughs and scorn, and kept him from experiencing many of the physical pleasures offered in Montmartre, a sorrow that he drowned in alcohol. At first it was beer and wine. Then brandy, whiskey, and the infamous absinthe found their ways into his life. Art and alcohol were his only mistresses, and they were mistresses to which he devoted all of his time and energy. He was doing one or both almost every day of his life until he died. Adapting the fad for Japanese style (asymmetric composition, flat areas of color) that then pervaded French art to the also burgeoning art of the picture poster, he created thousands of artworks both to memorialize his friends and to advertise their venues. Among those whose images are now a part of art history are the Moulin Rouge dancers Louise Weber (La Goulue) and Jane Avril, and the combative singer/entrepreneur Aristide Bruant.
Altogether from 1891 to 1900 Toulouse-Lautrec had the opportunity to design thirty one posters. One is stunned by their strength, the cleanliness of the image, a definite precursor of the 20th century poster modern art. But he didn't stop here and he produced three hundreed and sixty one lithographies highlighting the virtuosity of his expressive and elegant line.
Background top banner, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec sitting for a self-portrait. This 'trick photo' was done by Maurice Guibert circa 1890.