The Life and Art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901), better known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was a painter, printmaker, draughtsman, caricaturist, and illustrator. His work was inspired by the 19th century Parisian nightlife that surrounded him and he’s artwork perfectly captures its colourful flamboyance and seedy charm.

 

 

The years Toulouse-Lautrec spent living in Paris as an adult allowed him to produce a collection of enticing, elegant, and provocative images of the modern, decadent, and theatrical happenings of the times. Although his professional career only lasted just over a decade, the artist and the captivating images he created have experienced longstanding acclaim.

 

Early Life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Toulouse-Lautrec was born into one of the oldest and most powerful families in France. The family had ruled the Toulouse and Aquitaine regions for centuries. Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents were first-cousins and the congenital health conditions he suffered from are attributed to family inbreeding. Toulouse-Lautrec famously describes himself as being “a thoroughbred hitched to a rubbish cart”.

 

The artist inherited his father’s eccentricity and his mother’s sensitivity – but he also inherited a genetic disorder that massively affected his physical development. Toulouse-Lautrec appeared to be a healthy, normal child until he was thirteen. It was at this age when he fractured his right femur after a minor fall. A year later he fractured his left one too.

 

These breaks never healed properly and stunted his growth even further. It was during this time when he’s serious health problems became apparent and modern physicians attribute the symptoms he experienced after the fall to his unknown genetic disorder, which possibly was pycnodysostosis (sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome).

 

Up until this point, Toulouse-Lautrec had had a happy childhood where he enjoyed the expected past times of the family at their château’s and hunting lodges located throughout France. These activities included playing with dogs, birds, horses, and costumes.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec had a nomadic youth. He travelled with his mother between family homes in the regions of Toulouse and various hotels in Paris. They often stayed at special spas and clinics with the hopes of improving his health.

 

His full height was reached at four feet, eleven inches. Toulouse-Lautrec (and three of his cousins who were even more severely dwarfed), always had to walk with a cane. The genetic disorder also caused them all to experience chronic headaches and sinus problems.

 

The naturally high spirits and wit of Toulouse-Lautrec masked the pain and discomfort he was experiencing and lead him to develop a great sense of humour and brilliant social skills. His health problems also went on to lead him to art. All his various ailments caused young Henri to focus on activities that could be done from a bed – such as drawing and painting.

 

He had a maternal uncle who helped him with his drawings and taught him to use watercolours. Toulouse-Lautrec was naturally gifted and developed a deep passion for creating pictures. This was true to such an extent that when he was mobile, he carried his paint box with him everywhere he went.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Formal Art Training

Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents were supportive of their son’s passion for art; although they viewed it as little more than a useful hobby that kept their child busy and distracted him from his unfortunate handicap. It was also a well-suited path as Toulouse-Lautrec was unable to pursue the professions that were acceptable for gentlemen: diplomacy, the military, or estate management.

 

So, with the support of his family and their abundant wealth, as well as his two family-approved painter allies (his uncle and a friend of his father’s), Toulouse-Lautrec began pursuing the career path of becoming a professional artist.

 

The first step in achieving this was to complete his baccalaureate degree. This achievement then allowed him to enter studios and to enrol with his first two painter teachers – Leon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon. The Marble Polisher (1882 – 87), was painted while a student of Cormon and the painting demonstrates the classical training in realism and naturalism he received from these early teachers.

 

The Marble Polisher, 1882–87

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Toulouse-Lautrec studied under these well-respected artists between 1882 – 1887. He drew plaster cats and live models for them alongside other artists who were very influential to him. These artists included Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Vincent van Gogh.

 

Artistic Rebellion in Montmartre

Toulouse-Lautrec then went on to open his own studio in Montmartre. It was during this time that he began to rebel against the rules of realism he had been taught. He became inspired and influenced by the works of the Impressionists such as Degas and Manet.

 

This initial rebellion was a major turning point in Toulouse-Lautrec’s style and subject matter. From then onwards his work became focused on portraying the people and the activities of his new Bohemian environment in a new, Impressionistic approach.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec thrived off his new surroundings and was proud of his newfound independence and how his life was free from his previous melancholy and over protective mother. The artist developed a new devil-may-care attitude which began to govern all his actions.

 

 

This new approach to life opened himself to a range of new possibilities – for which he was in the perfect location. Montmartre was a haven for outcasts and for the children of the privileged upper class who had grown up to be against their upbringing.

 

The neighbourhood’s nightclubs and cabarets enlivened his social life and fuelled his art and passion. Like many of his fellow artist friends, he was huge advocate for enlarging art’s role and audience and this became a major goal of his.

 

Commercial Work

This passion inspired Toulouse-Lautrec to start producing art for commercial consumption, such as for newspapers, magazines, books, and theatre programs. Making lithographic posters offered Toulouse-Lautrec a way to make a living of his own and in doing so gain financial freedom from his parents.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s commercial work began to shun the existing conventions of the print world. In his work he would glorify local dancers and circus stars as if they were equal to the heroes portrayed in history murals.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec began to ridicule his early teachers’ laborious assignments of perfectly portraying mythological and biblical figures. In the past he completed these assignments diligently, but now he opted to portray his friends and unique acquaintances in an informal manner instead; using thinned oils on bare cardboard or canvas.

 

The Streetwalker, 1890 (Oil on cardboard)

(metmuseum)

 

The Moulin Rouge

Montmartre became a hub of populist sentiments and notions. Its nightlife was filled with rowdy entertainment in vulgar environments. The nightspots were always crowded with thugs, labourers and prostitutes.

 

A prime example of this is the famous Parisian dance hall and drinking garden, The Moulin Rouge. This night-time hotspot opened on the boulevard de Clichy in 1889 and became pivotal in Toulouse-Lautrec’s career.

 

Joseph Oliver, one of the nightclub’s owners, purchased and displayed a recent painting of Toulouse-Lautrec’s (Equestrienne: At the Circus Fernando, 1888) at the entrance of The Moulin Rouge. This brought a lot of attention to Toulouse-Lautrec’s work and gave the artist a newfound confidence.

 

Equestrienne: At the Circus Fernando, 1888

 

The artist himself also soon became a noticeable fixture at the nightclub. He could be found most nights sitting around with friends in the gaslit hall listening to the orchestra – who were housed in a huge papier-mâché elephant.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec found this space hugely inspiring and over the next seven to eight years he created over thirty paintings of the Moulin Rouge and all its regular frequenters. His painting, The Dance at the Moulin Rouge (1890) was what inspired his six-foot-long poster that launched his career in printmaking and brought him overnight fame. This massive poster’s explosive public debut outraged Toulouse-Lautrec’s family and further severed family ties.

The Dance at the Moulin Rouge, 1890

 

Lautrec’s Commissioned Work and the Power of Publicity

Toulouse-Lautrec became the decades greatest promoter of the provocative Parisian nightlife. He garnered enormous success and became one of the greatest commercial artists known for his masterful practise of colour lithography.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s went on to create over three hundred artworks for prints, filing albums or portfolios for collectors, books, magazines, playbills, and song sheets. His commercial work was always stand out pieces that would catch the eyes of Parisians as they hurried along boulevards and streets – this made him highly sought-after as the focus on publicity in Paris at the time was increasing in significance.

 

Many performers and cabaret stars regularly commissioned work from Toulouse-Lautrec’s for publicity reasons, but it was also oftentimes his own personal attraction to a particular singer or dancer that would motivate him to create. From a barstool or theatre seat he would intensely study each performer in the pursuit to perfectly capture their expressions, movement, and outfits.

 

In comparison to Toulouse-Lautrec’s captivating portrayals of these stars, photographs of them would appear lacklustre and flat. Toulouse-Lautrec strongly identified with performers and thus he could effortlessly capture the facial expressions, postures, and gestures to convey the dynamism of their theatrical performances in an incredibly convincing manner.

 

The artist would magnify his favourite observed quirks in loud, severe drawings and designs which would make the performers appear larger than life. These dynamic artworks were created during the time when moviemaking was emerging as a new artistic medium – the first public film was first shown in Paris in 1895.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s work seemed to foretell Hollywood’s style of publicity – the desire for immediate recognition, wide distribution, and attention-grabbing shock value. Toulouse-Lautrec was aware that when he publicized a star he publicizes his artistry.

 

Lithography and Simplification

The 1890’s was the golden age of colour lithography. It was the most fashionable and popular artistic medium of the time, especially with young avant-garde artists who were keen to overreach the ongoing Impressionist style of the time.

 

The strong artistic move towards simplicity aligned with the poets of Symbolism who were hugely admired at the time. Artists began to feel they could express more with less. This led to the use of fewer forms, colours, less modelling, and flattened space in their pictures. These characteristics can easily be identified in Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters – such as in his 1895 depiction of May Belfort.

 

May Belfort, 1895

(metmuseum)

 

The Oriental Influence

Trade agreements with Japan were reached in 1855 and France became flooded with foreign trinkets as the port had been shut for two centuries previously. Toulouse-Lautrec inherited a love for foreign things from his father and in 1883, after attending a large exhibition of Japanese art at Galerie Georges Petit, Toulouse-Lautrec started collecting Japanese art and ornaments.

 

By 1890 Toulouse-Lautrec had already broken away from his early academic training in Realism and controlled Impressionist manner, and instead he began to find inspiration in Van Gogh and this newly discovered Japanese art.

 

Portrait of Vincent van Gogh (1887)

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Toulouse-Lautrec studied the Japanese woodcuts that were tacked to Van Gogh’s walls and purchased prints from the dealer who lived in the same building – sometimes managing to trade his own art for prints. He devoted many hours to learning to read and reproduce these prints.

 

The principles of Japanese woodcut prints redefined his new style. This influence was especially evident in his poster designs which evolved into being constructed from curvaceous forms and expressive outlines that were filled with flat, bright colours.

 

The influence of Japanese art not only suited his new visual style but also his subject matter. The woodcut artists would find inspiration in the people of the Yoshiwara district of Edo in Tokyo were people enjoyed singing songs, drinking wine, and floating around the streets.

 

This was much like the colourful people of Montmartre and so Toulouse-Lautrec deeply connected with this art and continued to employ his neighbourhood as a source of inspiration and subject matter.

 

Many eighteenth-century Japanese artists would also depict geishas. This inspired Toulouse-Lautrec to visit brothels where he could observe woman bathing, dressing, and combing their hair.

 

The French artist was aware of the vast difference between the well-trained and educated geishas of Japan and the local Parisian prostitutes. He therefore did not try to imitate the Japanese artists’ elegant style of portraying woman with swanlike necks and elaborate garments. Toulouse-Lautrec instead adopted a more grotesque and nonchalant approach in depicting these local, world-weary women.

 

The Medical Inspection at the Rue des Moulins Brothel, 1894

(howlingpixel)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec was deeply proud of the artworks he created in the Parisian brothels. He took perverse pleasure in showing them to people who he knew would disapprove – often casually and teasingly stating that the brothels are “the only places in Paris where you can still get a good shoeshine”.

 

In reality, Toulouse-Lautrec never had to look far for any kind of company. His extravagant and self-deprecating humour combined with his intelligence had the ability to charm many acquaintances. Toulouse-Lautrec would minimise ridicule of himself by playing the clown.

 

 

While many people’s first reactions when encountering the dwarfed artist was to look away, all would come to be able to look past his distressing appearance. A good friend of Toulouse-Lautrec’s is famously recalled how his friends “didn’t even hear him sniffle anymore”, instead they “only saw his eyes glowing with wit and tenderness, and sometimes a flash of anger”.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Professional Artistic Development

Toulouse-Lautrec developed a signature which was a monogram of his initials (HTL) enclosed in a circle. This signature was obviously derived from and inspired by the circular seals that Japanese artists and publishers applied to their prints.

 

 

Toulouse-Lautrec had exhibitions of his paintings and prints in Paris, Brussels, and other nearby cities. These were always generally well received and from them the artist would receive a stream of commissions signifying his success. The only thing hindering Toulouse-Lautrec’s success was the artist’s decadent lifestyle which placed him on the path to self-destruction.

 

The Beginning of The End

Toulouse-Lautrec’s obvious artistic gifts and people-skills were not able to alleviate any of his physical discomfort. The artist turned to alcohol as a constant medicine to treat the pain and frustration he experienced daily. He initially only drank beer and wine but soon expanded into hard liquor, particularly absinthe.

 

The huge disparity between his posh and privileged heritage and the questionable company he kept and the activities they would participate in created huge amounts of difficulty in his personal life. His parents expressed their concern and reservations through stinginess, which put financial stress on Toulouse-Lautrec.

 

When his father sold off the large properties that were meant as Toulouse-Lautrec’s inheritance to various other family members, Toulouse-Lautrec felt extremely rejected and unvalued. It caused Toulouse-Lautrec to close himself off more and more.

 

He turned to excessive drinking which, much like he’s deformity, he laughed off and turned it into a comical, light-hearted affair. He is quoted as saying “No, I’m not afraid to get fall-down drunk. After all, I am so close to the ground.” This excessive drinking grew to such an extent that he hollowed out his cane and filled it with liquor to ensure he was never without alcohol.

 

“I expect to burn myself out by the time I am forty”. This is a quote from the artist himself when he was just twenty-four. His prediction was not too far off the mark.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec passed away in 1901 at the young age of thirty-six. His death occurred during his confinement at a local hospital where he was being treated for a “madness” caused by alcohol and syphilis. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from the family estate.

 

After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother and his art dealer, Maurice Joyant, continued promoting his artwork. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be created in Albi, his birthplace, to showcase his artworks. This museum, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, owns the largest collection of his greatly admired and pioneering works.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Artworks

Toulouse-Lautrec rose to fame with his bold and colourful prints and many of his famous paintings, drawings, and prints can be found in museums across the globe. In his less-than-20-year career, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 paintings on canvas, 275 watercolours, 363 prints/posters, and 5,084 sketches.

His debt to the Impressionists, particularly the more figurative painters like Manet and Degas, is apparent within his works and one can draw many parallels between them. A great example of this is Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” (1895).

 

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric”, 1895

(howlingpixel)

 

When Toulouse-Lautrec’s health problems first became apparent and the young boy’s activity became confined, Toulouse-Lautrec took great pleasure in his watercolour and sketching lessons which his uncle Charles taught him.

 

His childhood sketchbooks were filled with drawings of his father’s horses, hunting dogs, and scenes from the families’ travels. By the young age of three he was dubbed “a great sketcher” by his grandmother, Gabrielle who mused how “we consume quantities of pencils and paper”.

 

The arrival of an American frigate in the local harbour inspired Toulouse-Lautrec to endlessly draw boats and sailors – as well as to take up model ship building as a new hobby.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec was also highly interested in drawing faces, even at a young age. The faces of those he found amusing or those he cared for were the centre of his artworks throughout his career. It was as if by capturing them through his art he was able to draw them closer to him and make them his.

 

Over three thousand sketches survive in which Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed the identifiable and striking features of someone who caught his eye. He was a master at painting crowd scenes where each figure was highly individualized.  At the time they were painted, the individual figures in his larger paintings could be identified by silhouette alone, and the names of many of these characters have been recorded.

 

A prime example of this is the oil painting At the Moulin Rouge (1892). The painting portrays a group of three men and two women sitting around a table situated on the floor of the cabaret. From right to left, the people at the table include: Édouard Dujardin, dancer La Macarona, photographers Paul Secau and Maurice Guibert. In the right foreground, sitting at a different table is a partial profile, with face lit in a distinctive light, English dancer May Milton. In the background, on the right, is the dancer La Goulue with another woman; in the centre-left background Toulouse-Lautrec himself is found with Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran.

 

At the Moulin Rouge, 1892

(howlingpixel)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec studied and lived with Albert René Grenier at the start of his pursuit in becoming an artist. Grenier came from a wealthy district in France and so was deemed an acceptable companion by the Toulouse-Lautrec family.

 

In his portrait of Grenier (see below), the artist’s early style is perfectly established – the trained naturalism with a distinct inclination to the loose brushstrokes of the Impressionists. Toulouse-Lautrec forged his style in rebellion against academic norms and preferences.

 

Albert (René) Grenier (1858–1925)

 

Although Toulouse-Lautrec never grew tired of painting and drawing his friends, the artist did not have the patience or the correct attitude to pursue or maintain a professional career in portraiture. Like Ingres, Toulouse-Lautrec was prone to focus on the expressive features of the sitter’s face and would then go on to roughly suggest the rest of the figures form.

 

Many well-meaning and well-connected friends of Toulouse-Lautrec’s would secure important portrait commissions for the artist but most of the time the initially fascinated society women would walk away feeling insulted.

 

A new close companion of Toulouse-Lautrec was Ibels. Like Toulouse-Lautrec, he was also full of mischief and exuberance and used the working class as a source of inspiration. In his satirical prints in the popular press he would tweak the noses of the bourgeoisie. Toulouse-Lautrec was greatly inspired by Isbels prints and learnt a lot from the artist about the world of print.

 

From Toulouse-Lautrec’s preliminary painting of the English painter William Tom Warrener, who is captured blushing in conversation with two nightclub dancers at the Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec’s keen understanding of colour lithography’s virtues is clearly displayed. The artist’s conversion of this image from painterly realism to decorative abstraction was masterfully achieved (see below).

 

The Englishman, William Tom Warrener (1892) | Preliminary painting (Left) | Lithograph printed in six colours (Right)

 

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s fascination with Japanese colour woodcut art inspired his vivid abstraction which replaces the Impressionism in his colour prints. It is largely due these Japanese woodcuts that he owes the effect of flat, coloured masses and lively outlines in a tight composition. A great example of this new approach is the print Reine de Joie (1892).

 

Reine de Joie (1892)

(howlingpixel)

 

The exaggerated vulgarity that is found in this Japanese woodcut art style charged Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints of the colourful regulars at the nightclubs of Montmartre. Sharaku’s distorted and simplified the faces of his subject without mercy. This prompted Toulouse-Lautrec to imagine the performers and regulars at the local nightclubs as if they had been cast in a Kabuki drama with elegant clothing, dramatic make-up, and garish grimaces.

 

Aristide Bruant was a French cabaret singer, comedian, and club owner, one of which Toulouse-Lautrec frequented regularly, who noticed these prints of Toulouse-Lautrec and called upon the artist to promote him and produce work for the magazine he owned.

 

In several striking posters, Toulouse-Lautrec advertised the fame of the scowling Bruant (see below). Toulouse-Lautrec dressed him as a Bohemian artist with his name emblazoned across his cape in bold calligraphy.

 

Aristide Bruant in his cabaret (1892)

(howlingpixel)

 

Ambassadeurs – Aristide Bruant (1892)

(howlingpixel)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints are also known for their unusual cropping. This was inspired by Degas art, which Toulouse-Lautrec greatly admired. His famous tilted perspective is inspired by the works of both Degas and the Japanese woodcuts. Depth is depicted solely through relative sizing and/or perspective lines rushing to the corners of the image.

 

Until the 1890’s, all French posters consisted almost entirely out of three colours: blue, yellow, and red. Toulouse-Lautrec was the first to introduce a whole new range of hues, such as oranges, purples, and greens. He achieved this by layering colours from four, or five, or more lithographic stones.

 

In opposition to the Impressionists, who used white to brighten their views of the outdoors, Toulouse-Lautrec added black to portray night time scenes and their dimly lit interiors. The colours he used, the mauves and absinth greens, were used by the artist to express the sordid, gloomy, and anxious mood of Montmartre life.

 

Divan Japonais (1892-1893)

(Wikipedia)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s early lithographs show the artist’s preference for lithographic inks over crayons. He only ever used crayons irregularly later on in his printmaking career, such as in Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender, En Buste (1895).

 

The fluid, flowing outlines that describe the coloured forms in his posters are a form of decoration themselves, such as in oriental calligraphy or the lines found in Art Nouveau arts and crafts. They are essential in establishing his composition’s structure and dynamics.

 

Toulouse-Toulouse-Lautrec’s skilled depiction of people relied on his painterly style, which is highly linear and emphasizes contour. He often applied paint in long, thin brushstrokes which would leave much of the board underneath showing through. Many of his works may be best described as “drawings in coloured paint”.

 

The artist ordered a Japanese ink stone, brushes, and Sumi stick from Japan. With these authentic art supplies, he was able to practise his draftsman ship by drawing sketches with ink and brush like the famous Japanese artists he admired. His love and mastery of this technique is evident in many of his artworks.

 

Jane Avril (1893)

(metmuseum)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec displayed high levels of discipline in his lithographic practise. Although his nights were long and often filled with drinking, the artist would always be at the print shops early in the morning to oversee the editions he was involved with.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s artistic inspiration was most stirred by the members of an audience watching an entertainer’s performance. He fondly called these viewers “side dishes” and he was deeply unhappy when French theatres started dimming their houselights to bring attention to the stage.

 

Singers, dancers, and actors performing on the modern, well-lit stages became a great source of inspiration for Toulouse-Lautrec though. He fixed on their distorted and overly-dramatic expressions which were further exaggerated by their stage make-up and their quirky gestures – all of which were enlarged and highlighted by the floodlights.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec would astutely analyse the performers through rapid sketches he would make seated as a member of the audience. He would observe the star’s form silhouetted against the curtained backdrops and the tilted plane of the stage. He would capture the charged atmosphere of the theatre and the dynamics of the performance with crayon scrawls, spattered inks, and veils of luminous colour.

 

He was oftentimes also inspired the costumes of performers, which he would greatly abstract into bold, graphic shapes – just as the Japanese artists would portray the voluminously costumed Kabuki stars, suspended in dramatic motion. The inspiration to include gold in his artworks can also be attributed to Japanese artists. Their colour prints were often enriched with a sprinkling of mica or powdered brass.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec’s most extravagant lithograph was an eight-colour piece which was distributed over a thousand times through the Berlin magazine, Pan. The editor and art critic of Pan, Julius Meier-Graefe was consequently dismissed for having published such a “decadent” and costly print.

 

The portrayed star (Mlle Lender) has a geisha-like profile and elaborate textiles, which are all reminiscent of the Orient and the wood-cut, A Courtesan by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753). Toulouse-Lautrec’s colours and composition in his lithograph are also clearly inspired by the woodcut too – both with their close-up, cropped format and warm tones.

 

Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender, En Buste (1895) (Left) | A Courtesan, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753) (Right)

(metmuseum)

 

He excelled at depicting people in their working environments, with the colour and movement of the gaudy nightlife present but the glamour stripped away. Toulouse-Lautrec was more comfortable in brothels and nightclubs than surrounded by polite company. He was not shy about this fact and would openly exhibit his paintings and prints of prostitutes.

 

He devoted a series of eleven lithographs to Elles (Those Woman) in 1896. He captured the bored and bitter women who lived and worked in brothels doing their daily routine tasks in a very frank manner – just as Degas had startingly done so a decade previously, but this time Toulouse-Lautrec brought it to a much wider audience.

 

Woman at the Tub from the Portfolio Elles (1896)

(howlingpixel)

 

His treatment of his subject matter, whether as portraits, in scenes of Parisian nightlife, or as intimate studies, has been described as alternately “sympathetic” and “dispassionate”.

 

Toulouse-Lautrec would oftentimes become transfixed with a single personality’s theatrical performance and generate multiple artworks capturing them. A prime example of this is Yvette Guilbert. Toulouse-Lautrec created two albums of lithographs of the star – sixteen portraits in 1894 and eight more in 1989.

 

The star is shown in a series of distinct expressions and attitudes which Toulouse-Lautrec perfectly captured. He memorialized her in twenty-nine prints and posters – but she was not the biggest fan of his work and claimed that Toulouse-Lautrec made her “horribly ugly”. She reluctantly agreed to add her signature to the 1894 print album but remarked that Toulouse-Lautrec is “a genius at deformity”.

 

Yvette Guilbert Taking Curtain Call (1894)

 

Toulouse-Lautrec was raised in a family were riding and hunting were important pastimes. The artist was a lifelong horseman, although severely limited one. As a child he would continuously draw the family’s dogs and horses and often copied British riding prints. Near the end of his life, this interest in sporting scenes was revived and animals once again became prominent roles in his images.

 

The German Babylon (1894)

 

Despite Toulouse-Lautrec’s declining health due to excessive alcohol and unbearable syphilis, the artists’ final works display disciplined vitality. During his last days in 1899 at the Neuilly sanatorium on the outskirts of Paris, Toulouse-Lautrec found the strength to produce an impressive group of over fifty colour crayon and chalk drawings.

 

At the Circus: The Spanish Walk (1899)

(metmuseum)

 

These imaginative sketches were drawn entirely from memory. It was thanks to these circus drawings that Lautrec earned his release from the sanatorium – their impressive handling convinced doctors of his improving health.

 

As Lautrec left the clinic, he is said to have remarked, “I’ve bought my release with my drawings.” A profound statement that rings true throughout his life.

 

Art was he’s escape: from pain, from his controlling family, from dullness. He was an artist who lived life to the fullest and captured a chapter of French history perfectly in mesmerizing images that are still revered to this day.

 

-by Jessica Davies-

 

Check out the poster auctions listed on aproposter.com for original Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec posters.

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