Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, HENRI DEbackground and artistic training
art and life
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, HENRI DE (1864–1901), French artist best known for portrayals of Paris life.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec belonged to no theoretical school, but is now sometimes classified as postimpressionist. His primary focus was unsentimental evocations of personalities and social mores in working-class, cabaret, circus, and brothel scenes. Toulouse-Lautrec's greatest contemporary impact came with the thirty posters done between 1891 and 1901 that transformed the aesthetics of poster art.
A heritage of wealth, artistic talent, and a rare genetic disorder defined Toulouse-Lautrec. Born in Albi, France, as the child of a first-cousin marriage between aristocrats, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Montfa inherited a rare form of dwarfism that left him deformed and crippled. During an otherwise normal childhood, he suffered from increasingly severe bone pain. At age thirteen in 1878, a minor fall broke his left femur or thighbone. In 1879, a second fall broke the right femur. His growth stopped at 152 cm (about 4' 11") tall. Controversies surrounding the causes of his disability include rumors he fell from a horse or received incompetent medical treatment. It is sometimes claimed that he had pycnodysostosis (a genetic disorder of the bones), but in photographs he does not appear to have several of its identifying symptoms. His exact malady remains undiagnosed.
His childhood was marked by conflicts between his parents. Consequently the primary family unit became the artist and his mother. The child Toulouse-Lautrec often drew and painted alongside his father or one of his uncles, all talented amateur artists; he used art to tolerate long convalescences. His uncle, Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec (1840–1915), and deaf-mute artist René Princeteau (1844–1914), who specialized in horses, provided early art training. In 1882 at age seventeen, with parental approval, he began art study in Paris, receiving training from Léon-Joseph-Florentin Bonnat (1833–1922) and Fernand Cormon (1845–1924). Toulouse-Lautrec kept studios in Montmartre, influenced by neighboring artists Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Jean-Louis Forain (1852–1931). Friends included close relatives, fellow aristocrats, prostitutes, circus performers, and artists Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), and Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940). Much of his art portrayed dance halls and cabarets like the Moulin de la Galette, the Moulin Rouge, and the Mirliton, where, after dining at his mother's, he drank nightly.
By age twenty-two, Toulouse-Lautrec was an accomplished artist and a hopeless alcoholic. Rejecting the hypocrisy and sentimentality he believed corrupted all human relations, he flaunted his physical handicaps, with a veneer of self-mockery and outrageous public misbehavior. Many works make reference to his disabilities, ranging from cruel caricatures of himself and others to "nostril view" portraits, and figure studies with legs, arms,
and in one case, head cut off by the frame, symbolically handicapping his models as he was himself. He became iconoclastic, resolutely destroying others' pretensions with a sharp word or a slash of pencil on paper. Against his father's wishes, he decided to sign with the family name: H. T-Lautrec.
Toulouse-Lautrec prepared a final work by proceeding through a variety of media. First he did many sketches, sometimes using carbon and tracing paper to preserve images he liked. He at length distilled an expression or gesture into a single evocative, sometimes caricatural line. Obsessed with technical innovation and being "modern," he sometimes used photographs to fix a pose or scene, while making a painted portrait. His paintings are virtually always in oil, usually greatly thinned with turpentine, painted on an absorbent surface such as bare canvas, wood panel, or cardboard. He typically used tiny brushes to make subtle and detailed facial studies, sketching in the rest of the scene in quick strokes with larger brushes.
Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings are striking for the revealing expressions and body language of his models and for his staging of social narratives via costume and location. Finished paintings in turn sometimes served as preliminary studies for a color lithograph or poster. However, the image in the final print was pared down, simplified, and abstracted into a work whose emphasis was on areas of color and repeated shapes, containing virtually none of the psychological impact of the oil. It was in his multiples that Toulouse-Lautrec most showed the influence of Japanese art. He experimented with superimposed layers of color on the lithographic print, a variety of spatter techniques, and other technological inventions, but it was above all his understanding of the guiding principles of the advertising poster that revolutionized the art form. He created striking trademark images whose message was immediately understandable, rendering his subjects so memorable that they are still recognizable to the early-twenty-first-century viewer.
Both notoriety and success came quickly to Toulouse-Lautrec. In spite of his irregular and distracting lifestyle, he was remarkably productive. By age twenty-one he was selling drawings to magazines and newspapers, illustrating books, song sheets, menus, and theater programs. Acclaimed by the avant-garde, he exhibited constantly. Although his work sold well, and his monthly allowance from his parents (around 15,000 francs per year) was perfectly adequate, he had extravagant tastes and lavish generosity. Virtually every letter home said, "Send money!"
He was institutionalized for several months in 1899 for treatment of psychological symptoms caused by organic deterioration certainly from advanced alcoholism, and possibly from tertiary syphilis. He died two months before his thirtyseventh birthday. In a career lasting only twenty years, he produced a phenomenal amount of art: 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 368 prints and posters, and 5,084 drawings, not to mention lost works, an occasional book binding, ceramic, or stained-glass window. Some 300 works are pornographic.
Toulouse-Lautrec's art remains so popular that it has become a commonplace, reproduced on coffee mugs, dish towels, and shopping bags. Research and criticism have traditionally centered on its art historical, biographical, or social context. More recent studies focus on Toulouse-Lautrec's distinctive, repetitive artistic characteristics: fleeting impressions, transparency, layering, visual narrative, jokes and puns, homages to and pastiches of other artists. These traits reveal subtlety and complexity that are increasingly appreciated by other artists, scholars, and the public at large.
Carlton Lake Collection, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas. Austin, Tex. Unpublished original letters by Toulouse-Lautrec and members of his family, most written between 1864 and 1894.
Dortu, M. G. Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre. 6 vols. New York, 1971. Only catalog of all works credibly attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec. A huge effort, but contains many errors in dating and some in attribution.
Musée Toulouse-Lautrec Collection. Albi, France. Originals and/or copies of all possible documentation on Toulouse-Lautrec, including letters, photographs, schoolbooks, clippings, etc.
Wittrock, Wolfgang, ed. Toulouse-Lautrec: The Complete Prints. 2 vols. London, 1985. Reproduces and documents each known state of Toulouse-Lautrec's prints. Worthwhile articles by several critics.
Bibliotheque Nationale and Queensland Art Gallery. The Lautrecs of Lautrec. Brisbane, 1991. Exhibition catalog. Notable for interesting articles and entries.
Castleman, Riva, and Wolfgang Wittrock, eds. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Images of the 1890s. New York, 1985. Exhibition catalog. Reproduces evolution of artistic choices through preparatory and finished works.
Cate, Phillip Dennis, and Patricia Eckert Boyer. The Circle of Toulouse-Lautrec: An Exhibition of the Work of the Artist and of his Close Associates. New Brunswick, N.J., 1985. Exhibition catalog. Artists who were Toulouse-Lautrec's friends and contemporaries.
Denvir, Bernard. Toulouse-Lautrec. London, 1991. Excellent overall analysis of the artist's relation to his work.
Devynck, Daniele. Toulouse-Lautrec: The Posters, Collection of the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec. Graulhet, 2001. Thorough, serious study of Toulouse-Lautrec's poster art.
Frey, Julia. Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life. London, 1994. Only complete biography. Based on contemporaneous letters and documents.
Heller, Reinhold. "Rediscovering Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge." Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 12, no. 2 (1986): 114–135. Examines the cutting and re-stitching of a section of the famous oil, theorizing possible intent.
Murray, Gale B. Toulouse-Lautrec: The Formative Years, 1878–1891. Oxford, U.K., 1991. Study of Toulouse-Lautrec's early work with focus on dating and artistic influences.
Schimmel, Herbert, ed. The Letters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oxford, U.K., 1991. Translates (sometimes badly) many if not all Toulouse-Lautrec's existing letters.
Thomson, Richard, et al. Toulouse-Lautrec. London, 1977. Exhibition catalog. Some interesting critical articles. Excellent chronology.
Thomson, Richard, Phillip Dennis Cate, and Mary Weaver Chapin. Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre. Washington, D.C., 2005. Exhibition catalog.
Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Born: November 24, 1864
Died: September 9, 1901
The French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicted the Parisian night life of cafés, bars, and brothels (houses of prostitution, where sexual acts are traded for money)—the world that he inhabited at the height of his career.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a direct descendant of an aristocratic family of a thousand years, was born on November 24, 1864, at Albi, France, to Alphonse-Charles and Adèle Zoë. His wild and colorful father lived in moderate luxury, hunting with falcons and collecting exotic weapons. Henri began to draw at an early age and found the arts an escape from his loving but over-protective family.
In 1878 Toulouse-Lautrec suffered a fall and broke one femur (thigh bone). A year later he fell again and broke the other one. His legs did not heal properly. His torso developed normally, but his legs stopped growing and were permanently deformed. Many attribute his health problems to the fact that his parents were first cousins.
In 1882, encouraged by his first teachers—the animal painters René Princeteau and John Lewis Brown—Toulouse-Lautrec decided to devote himself to painting, and that year he left for Paris. Enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts, he entered the studio of Fernand Cormon. In 1884 Toulouse-Lautrec settled in Montmartre, an area in north Paris, where he stayed from then on, except for short visits to Spain, where he admired the works of El Greco (1541–1614) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). In England he visited celebrated writer Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) and painter James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). At one point Toulouse-Lautrec lived near painter Edgar Degas (1834–1917), whom he valued above all other contemporary artists (artists from his time) and by whom he was influenced. From 1887 his studio was on the rue Caulaincourt next to the Goupil printshop, where he could see examples of the Japanese prints of which he was so fond.
By habit Toulouse-Lautrec stayed out most of the night. He frequented many entertainment spots in Montmartre, especially the Moulin Rouge cabaret (a nightclub with entertainment). He also drank a great deal. His loose lifestyle caught up with him—he suffered a breakdown in 1899. His mother had him committed to an asylum, a hospital for the mentally ill, at Neuilly, France. He recovered and set to work again, but not for very long. He died on September 9, 1901, at the family estate at Malromé, France.
The influence of Parisian nightlife
Toulouse-Lautrec moved freely among the dancers, the prostitutes, the artists, and the intellectuals of Montmartre. From 1890 on his tall, lean cousin, Dr. Tapié de Celeyran, accompanied him, and the two, depicted in At the Moulin Rouge (1892), made a colorful pair. Despite his deformity, Toulouse-Lautrec was extremely social and readily made friends and inspired trust. He came to be regarded as one of the people of Montmartre, for he was an outsider like them, fiercely independent, but with a great ability to understand everything around him.
Among the painter's favorite subjects were the cabaret dancers Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, and La Goulue and her partner, Valentin le Désossé, the contortionist (an acrobat who demonstrates extraordinary bodily positions). Through the seriousness of his intention, Toulouse-Lautrec depicted his subjects in a style bordering on, but rising above, caricature (exaggeration). He took subjects who often dressed in disguise and makeup as a way of life and stripped away all that was not essential, thus revealing each as an individual—but a prisoner of his own destiny.
The two most direct influences on Toulouse-Lautrec's art were the Japanese print, as seen in his slanted angles and flattened forms, and Degas, from whom he derived the tilted perspective, cutting of figures, and use of a railing to separate the spectator from the painted scene, as in At the Moulin Rouge. But the genuine feel of a world of wickedness and the harsh, artificial colors used to create it were Toulouse-Lautrec's own.
Unusual types performing in a grand show attracted Toulouse-Lautrec. In his painting In the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster (1888) the nearly grotesque (distorted and ugly), strangely cruel figure of the ringmaster is the center around which the horse and bareback rider must revolve. From 1892 to 1894 Toulouse-Lautrec produced a series of interiors of brothels, where he actually lived for a while and became the companion of the women. As with his paintings of cabarets, he caught the feel of the brothels and made no attempt to glamorize them. In the Salon in the Rue des Moulins (1894) the prostitutes are shown as ugly and bored beneath their makeup; the madam (woman in charge) sits quietly in their midst. He neither sensationalized nor drew a moral (having to do with right and wrong) lesson but presented a certain interpretation of this side of society for what it was—no more and no less.
Color lithography and the poster
Toulouse-Lautrec broadened the range of lithography (the process of printing on metal) by treating the tone more freely. His strokes became more summary (executed quickly) and the planes more unified. Sometimes the ink was speckled on the surface to bring about a great textural richness. In his posters he combined flat images (again the influence of the Japanese print) with type. He realized that if the posters were to be successful their message had to make an immediate and forceful impact on the passerby. He designed them with that in mind.
Toulouse-Lautrec's posters of the 1890s established him as the father of the modern large-scale poster. His best posters were those advertising the appearance of various performers at the Montmartre cabarets, such as the singer May Belfort, the female clown Cha-U-Kao, and Loïe Fuller of the Folies-Bergère.
In an 1893 poster of dancer Jane Avril, colored partially in bright red and yellow, she is pictured kicking her leg. Below her, in gray tones so as not to detract attention, is the diagonally placed hand of the violinist playing his instrument. There is some indication of floorboards but no furniture or other figures. The legend reads simply "Jane Avril" in white letters and "Jardin de Paris" in black letters.
For More Information
Cooper, Douglas. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.
Frey, Julia. Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life. New York: Viking, 1994.
Frey, Julia. Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life. New York: Viking, 1994.
Heller, Reinhold. Toulouse-Lautrec: The Soul of Montmartre. New York: Prestel, 1997.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
The French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) depicted Montmartre's night life of cafés, bars, and brothels, the world which he inhabited at the height of his career.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a direct descendant of the counts of Toulouse, was born on Nov. 24, 1864, at Albi. His eccentric father lived in provincial luxury, hunting with falcons and collecting exotic weapons. Henri began to draw at an early age. He suffered a fall in 1878 and broke one femur; in 1879 he fell again and broke the other one. His legs did not heal properly; his torso developed normally, but his legs were permanently deformed.
Encouraged by his first teachers, the animal painters René Princeteau and John Lewis Brown, Toulouse-Lautrec decided in 1882 to devote himself to painting, and that year he left for Paris. Enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts, he entered the studio of Fernand Cormon. In 1884 Toulouse-Lautrec settled in Montmartre, where he stayed from then on, except for short visits to Spain, where he admired the works of El Greco and Diego Velázquez; Belgium; and England, where he visited Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler. At one point Toulouse-Lautrec lived near Edgar Degas, whom he valued above all other contemporary artists and by whom he was influenced. From 1887 his studio was on the Rue Caulaincourt next to the Goupil printshop, where he could see examples of the Japanese prints of which he was so fond.
Toulouse-Lautrec habitually stayed out most of the night, frequenting the many entertainment spots about Montmartre, especially the Moulin Rouge cabaret, and he drank a great deal. His loose living caught up with him: he suffered a breakdown in 1899, and his mother had him committed to an asylum at Neuilly. He recovered and set to work again. He died on Sept. 9, 1901, at the family estate at Malromé.
Toulouse-Lautrec moved freely among the dancers, prostitutes, artists, and intellectuals of Montmartre. From 1890 on, his tall, lean cousin, Dr. Tapié de Celeyran, accompanied him, and the two, depicted in At the Moulin Rouge (1892), made a colorful pair. Despite his deformity, Toulouse-Lautrec was an extrovert who readily made friends and inspired trust. He came to be regarded as one of the people of Montmartre, for he was an outsider like them, fiercely independent, but with great ability and intellect.
Among the painter's favorite subjects were the cabaret dancers Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, and La Goulue and her partner, the contortionist Valentin le Désossé. Toulouse-Lautrec depicted his subjects in a style bordering on but rising above caricature through the seriousness of his intention. He took subjects who habitually employed disguise and charade as a way of life and stripped away all that was inessential to reveal each as an individual and yet as a prisoner of his destiny.
The two most direct influences on Toulouse-Lautrec's art were the Japanese print, as seen in his oblique viewpoints and flattened forms, and Degas, from whom he derived the tilted perspective, cutting of figures, and use of a railing to separate the spectator from the painted scene, as in At the Moulin Rouge. But the authentic feel of a world of depravity and the strident, artificial colors used to create it were Toulouse-Lautrec's own.
Unusual types performing in a grand, contrived spectacle attracted Toulouse-Lautrec. In his painting In the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster (1888) the nearly grotesque, strangely cruel figure of the ringmaster is the pivot around which the horse and bareback rider must revolve. In 1892-1894 Toulouse-Lautrec did a series of interiors of houses of prostitution, where he actually lived for a while, becoming the confidant and companion of the girls. As with his paintings of cabarets, he caught the feel of the brothels and made no attempt to glamorize them. In the Salon in the Rue des Moulins (1894) the prostitutes are shown as ugly and bored beneath their makeup; the madame sits demurely in their midst. He neither sensationalized nor drew a moral lesson but presented a certain facet of the periphery of society for what it was—no more and no less.
Color Lithography and the Poster
Toulouse-Lautrec broadened the range of lithography by treating the tone more freely. His stroke became more summary and the planes more unified. Sometimes the ink was speckled on the surface to bring about a great textural richness. In his posters he combined flat images (again the influence of the Japanese print) with type. He realized that if the posters were to be successful their message had to make an immediate and forceful impact on the passerby, and he designed them with that in mind.
Toulouse-Lautrec's posters of the 1890s establish him as the father of the modern large-scale poster. His best posters were those advertising the appearance of various performers at the Montmartre cabarets, such as the singer May Belfort, the female clown Cha-U-Kao, and Loïe Fuller of the Folies-Bergère.
In a poster of 1893 the dancer Jane Avril, colored partially in bright red and yellow, is pictured kicking her leg. Below her, in gray tones so as not to detract attention, is the diagonally placed hand of the violinist playing his instrument. There is some indication of floorboards but no furniture or other figures. The legend reads simply "Jane Avril" in white letters and "Jardin de Paris" in black letters.
The best books on Toulouse-Lautrec are Gerstle Mack, Toulouse-Lautrec (1938), especially rich in describing Toulouse-Lautrec's demimonde associations, and Douglas Cooper, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1956). See also Philippe Huisman and M. G. Dorty, Lautrec by Lautrec (1964). A major work on the prints is Jean Adhémar, Toulouse-Lautrec: His Complete Lithographs and Drypoints (trans. 1965). □
Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (äNrē´ də tōōlōōz´ lōtrĕk´), 1864–1901, French painter and lithographer, b. Albi. Son of a wealthy nobleman, Lautrec fell and broke both legs when he was a child. His permanently stunted growth has traditionally been seen as the result of this accident, but more recently doctors have theorized that it may have been the result of a rare genetic abnormality. Showing an early gift for drawing, he studied with Bonnat and Cormon and set up a studio of his own when he was 21. As a youth he was attracted by sporting subjects and admired and was influenced by the work of Degas.
His own work is, above all, graphic in nature, the paint never obscuring the strong, original draftsmanship. He detailed the music halls, circuses, brothels, and cabaret life of Paris with a remarkable objectivity born, perhaps, of his own isolation. His garish and artificial colors, the orange hair and electric green light of his striking posters, caught the atmosphere of the life they advertised. Lautrec's technical innovations in color lithography created a greater freedom and a new immediacy in poster design. His posters of the dancers and personalities at the Moulin Rouge cabaret are world renowned and have inspired countless imitations.
After a life of enormous productivity (more than 1,000 paintings, 5,000 drawings, and 350 prints and posters), debauchery, and alcoholism, Lautrec suffered a mental and physical collapse and died at the age of 37. His life has inspired numerous biographies, of varying accuracy. Although exhibitions of his work were not well received in his lifetime, he is now one of the world's most popular artists and is represented in most of the major museums of France and the United States. Many of his sketches and some paintings are in the Musée Lautrec of his native Albi. His painting At the Moulin de la Galette (1892) is in the Art Institute, Chicago; the lithograph Seated Female Clown (1896) is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
See his correspondence, ed. by L. Goldschmidt and H. Schimmel (1969); complete lithographs and drypoints, ed. by J. Adémar (1965) and posters, intr. by E. Julien (1966); biographies by H. Perruchot (1960), P. Huisman (1964, repr. 1968), and J. B. Frey (1994); studies by D. Cooper (1969), F. Novotny (1969), J.-B. Naudin, G. Diego-Dortignac, and A. Daguin (1993), and D. Sweetman (2000).