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Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 02 2019

Born in Albi, Toulouse was practically born into the classical "tragic hero" theme: royalty- the firstborn of a rich, aristocratic family, who is beset upon hard times, and best by a tragic inbreeding of past generations to "pure" the bloodline. His mother and his father were first cousins and Henri was unfortunate enough to suffer from a number of terrible health problems because of this. He had other siblings, but they died because of their diseases- similar to the ones Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec himself survived- however palely, as far as his health is concerned.

 Henri dealt with his health problems his whole life- and are probably what led him to his death from alcoholism and syphilis and life in the party scene- which was new in Paris in the1890's. Toulouse was a dwarf- and suffered from genetic diseases that left him unable to heal, worsening his serious fractures in his thigh bones. He would have been very short- around 5 feet exactly, with a fully sized adult torso and arms, but non-functional legs. He had a cane his whole life, and was constantly in pain. He couldn't live his life like the rest of the men his age, and he couldn't participate with them either, so he was drawn into the art world, transforming his reality with beautiful, Impressionist, Feudal Japanese style. He became (and still is) very important as a painter, and illustrator, and even a lithographer who had recorded illustrations in magazines all over France.

 Lautrec was drawn into a particular area of Paris France for the reasons mentioned above. He was extremely involved in the party scene and spent most of his life drunk. He also spent most of his time with whores, in brothels. The area that Toulouse spent his time it was famous for being a hangout for all the artists of the day, and where he went, there was a beautiful garden where Lautrec created an amazing array of Plein-air self-portraits. When a nearby brothel had opened it's doors, Lautrec was asked to produce burlesque type posters for the brothel. Henri loved this lifestyle, and he fit right in- laughing, drinking partying, spending his time drawing sketches, then in the morning, he would then reproduce and expand on his sketches with large, brightly colored paintings.

 It's believed that Lautrec used drinking as a way to escape the ridicule of his appearance, and because of this, his health steadily declined his entire life. He was already weakened because of his inbreeding and inability to heal; then his mental state steadily declined, and he was confined to a sanatorium and to his mother's, but he couldn't stay away from the booze.

 After his initial poster debut, the brothels where he was painting literally reserved a seat for him to paint more nude posters. He painted a lot of them- to the point he had literally moved into the brothel for weeks at a time, and he shared the lives of these women, painting them when they were working and when they weren't, and he recorded their most intimate moments- that was usually with other women. He actually contracted syphilis from his favorite red-haired prostitute- Rosa La Rouge, who he painted on a regular basis. Toulouse- Lautrec also gave painting lessons to his favorite models (possibly mistresses too) one of these being Suzanne Valadon.

 Unfortunately, because of complications through his syphilis, Henri De Toulouse only lived to be 37, but he ended up creating over 700 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 self-portraits and prints, and over 5,000 sketches, and other types of works that were lost. He was the best at capturing the human condition, and the way things "really were". He saw through the makeup and lifestyles of the women in the brothel, portraying their sadness and silhouette in paint and line, and each one of his crowd scenes is especially individualized and beautiful. He was skillful at picking out a face, perfecting all the features, and extending the art of contour.

 He truly lived a marvelous lifestyle for one so terribly crippled with a disease and accomplished masterful things in his short, wild lifetime.

View our Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec Gallery