Born on November 24, 1864, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is known for his artistic excellence and out-of-the-novel interesting life. There are number of words that describe this enigmatic personality, some of which are – genius painter, draftsman, printmaker, caricaturist, aristocrat, alcoholic, innovator, dwarf, a great cook and a party animal. This French artist is known for his keen observation and portrayal with great psychological details, of the personalities and facets of French world of entertainment and Parisian nightlife during the 1890s. Among his friends were the legendary Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde. A life marred with physical disability did not stop this virtuoso from live his life to the fullest. The famous subjects of his paintings included party scenes, brothel scenes, circuses etc.
Early life Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was born in Albi, France as the first child of Alphonse Charles and his wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran. He was born in an aristocratic family that had a lineage dating back to several hundred years.
In 1878, Henri suffered a fall that broke one of his femurs. The following year, he broke the other one. Modern day physician attribute it to congenital problem known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome or pycnodysostosis. Henri’s parents were first cousins; therefore, the genetic disorder is believed to be due to family history of inbreeding. The fractures did not heal properly and Henri grew up to become a man of full-size torso and small legs. His height was 4 ft. 8 inches. The physical disability rendered him unable to enjoy the activities of a healthy child and Henri eventually focused his attention towards arts.
In 1882, his first teachers Rene Princeteau and John Lewis Brown encouraged him to pursue a career in arts and so, he moved to Paris. He enrolled into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the studio of Fernand Cormon. The studio of Cormon held high reputation and attracted painters of eminence including Vincent van Gogh and Emile Bernard. Soon, Henri started finding the atmosphere of the studio a little restrictive and he moved to Montmartre, where he spent the most part of the rest of his life.
Montmartre This part of Paris was famous for its cafes, entertainers, circuses and night life which fascinated Henri. His keen sense of observation enabled him to portray the life of its inhabitants in great detail. Henri stayed out most of the nights. He also started frequenting famous nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge Cabaret and resorted to heavy drinking. His deformity did not stop him from socializing and Henri soon became a well known face due to his fiercely independent and carefree attitude. He found inspiration in the Japanese print and Degas. Unlike most artists who spend their lives in poverty, Henri invented new ways of making money. He started creating banners for cabarets and circuses which brought good returns. It was perhaps here that art met commercial advertising. Some notable works during this time were At the Moulin Rouge, In the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster (1888), Salon in the Rue des Moulins (1894). During 1892-1894, Henri produced works on the interiors of brothels, where he spent a lot of his time. He presented an unseen picture of the brothels where the prostitutes were shown bored under their make-ups. Other subjects of his artworks were cabaret dancers Yvette Guilbert, La Goulue and Valentin le Désossé, a contortionist who demonstrated extraordinary bending capabilities.
Henri was also known for organizing parties for his close friends where he would cook for the guests. He was known to be exceptionally talented in culinary skills. This extravagant lifestyle eventually resulted in a breakdown in 1899. He had to be enrolled in a hospital in Neuilly, France for the mentally ill. His art paved way for his release and he started working again.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died on September 9, 1901 at his family estate at Malrome, France.
Alphinse de Toulouse-Lautrec Driving His Four-in-Hand by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1880)