French painter Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa was born in Albi, Tarn, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, on this day le 24 novembre 1864
. (Note: in French, the names of the months are not normally capitalised as in English.) From an old aristocratic family which had lost much of its prestige, he was the son of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adéle de Toulouse-Lautrec. His parents were first cousins and a lot of intra-marriage had already taken place within the familes. This was done to preserve the family wealth, but led to development of genetic defects as the result of inbreeding.
At age 12 he fractured his left thigh bone, and at 14 his right thigh bone, and because of a genetic disorder which prevented his bones from healing properly, his legs ceased to grow. He reached maturity with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs, described by Jean Bouret as having "developed the torso of a grown man on the legs of a small boy; and his handsome face changed gradually into a thick-lipped, monstrously masculine and sensual mask covered in black stubble." He was only 4 1/2 feet (1.5 meters) tall.
Toulouse-Lautrec's favorite subjects were the nightclubs, singers, and dancers of Montmartre
(scroll down), the night life district of Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized many such entertainers, including Jane Avril, May Belfort, and "Chocolat." Two other of the well-known people he portrayed were singer Yvette Guilbert, and Louise Weber, known as the outrageous "La Goulue"
, a dancer who created the "French Can-Can." Toulouse-Lautrec was deemed "the soul of Montmartre
", the Parisian quarter where he made his home. His paintings portray life at the Moulin Rouge
and other Montmartre
and Parisian cabaret and theaters, and in the brothels that he frequented regularly (and where he perhaps contracted syphilis). Toulouse-Lautrec taught painting to and encouraged the efforts of Suzanne Valadon, one of his models and probably his mistress. She is believed to be the one from whom he contracted syphilis.
Toulouse-Lautrec was influenced in his style by the French painter Edgar Degas and by Japanese prints. This influence can be seen in the dynamic slant of space, the flat areas of color with no shadows or modeling, and the unusual way he cropped his scenes. These characteristics appear in At the Moulin Rouge
(1892). The painting portrays a crowd at the popular Montmartre
Toulouse-Lautrec was a superb draftsman. He was also one of the early masters of the lithographic poster, helping to raise the poster from the level of commercial art to the status of fine art. Aristide Bruant in His Cabaret
(1893) features bold, flat, outlined forms. But the delicacy of line and hint of shadow in Bruant's profile make it stand out by its animation of expression.
In 1885, he began to exhibit and publish his work. Toulouse-Lautrec participated in several avant-garde exhibitions, including the Salon des Independents
in Paris and Les XX
in Brussels, Belgium. He died of alcoholism and syphilis on Sept. 9, 1901, at the age of 36 at the family estate in Malromé
and is buried in Verdelais, Gironde
, a few miles from his birthplace..
Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre
A Toulouse-Lautrec Sketchbook