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Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

AKA: Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa
Born: 1864; Albi, France
Died: 1901;Chateau de Malrome near Bordeaux, France
Nationality: French

Biography of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1864-1901) had the misfortune to break both his legs in childhood, as a result of which he was stunted in his growth. In 1882, he began to study art seriously in Paris and by 1885 had a studio in Montmartre. He exhibited at the Salon de Independents and in 1891 his first posters brought him immediate recognition. He made his first color prints in 1892, and held a one-man show in Paris in the following year. In 1894, he went to Brussels, and in 1895 made his first of several visits to London, where he knew Oscar Wilde and Beardsley. He held a second exhibition in 1896, and visited Holland, Portugal, and Spain, but in 1898 his health began to suffer from drink. In 1899, he spent three months in a clinic recovering from alcoholism, and during his convalescence he worked on a series of drawings of the circus. After his recovery, he resumed his old life, but in 1901 he broke down completely and was taken to his mother’s country house, where he died.

His first teacher had encouraged, him to paint animals, particularly horses. After he began studying in Paris, he met Emile Bernard and van Gogh, and he was deeply influenced by the technique and subject matter of Degas, and by Japanese prints, the influence of which was all pervasive in Impressionist circles. His subject matter was centered narrowly round the life he led: some portraits, many painted out-of-doors, scenes from dance halls and cafes in Montmartre, such as the Moulin Rouge, Or from Aristide Bruant’s cabaret Le Mirliton, figures of actresses, female clowns, circus artists seen backstage, and a great number of nudes, either a la Degas washing, dressing or seen sitting around in brothels, waiting for customers. He loathed posed models; these naked women just walking or lounging about provided him with models in movement and under no restraint either in pose or behavior, and to study them he lived for some time in maisons closes.

His technical range was very wide. He was a superb draftsman with a gift for conveying rapid movement and the whole atmosphere of a scene with a few strokes. Most of his paintings are in spirit-thinned oilpaint or unprimed cardboard, using the neutral buff tone of the board as an element in the design. He executed a large number of posters in lithography, with masterly handling of highly simplified line, large areas of flat color, and a unique concentration on the eye-catching quality of the design. He also made small lithographs, either for menu heads, programs, book covers, or the like, or as single prints or series from his usual subject matter. Occasionally, he used watercolor and pastel, and towards the end of his life his use of oil paint tended to become heavier, more impasted, with more solidly painted backgrounds. He was not interested in light as were the Impressionists, but only in form and movement, and most of his works are devoid of chiaroscuro; for him, light illuminated, never enveloped. He subscribed to no theories, was a member of no artistic or aesthetic movement, and the works in which he records what he saw and understood contained no hint of comment no pity, no sentiment, no blame, no innuendo. There are works in most museums of modern art.


1864- Henri-Marie-Raymond Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa is born at 6am on the 24th November in the Hôtel de Bosc in Albi, a city in the south of France. He is the first son of Count Alphonse-Charles-Jean-Marie Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa (1838-1930), born of a very old French family, and of his wife Adèle-Zoé-Marie-Marquette Tapié of Céleyran.

1868- Richard-Constantine, Henri’s younger brother, dies at the age of one. In August, his parents separate.

1872- The countess moves to Paris with eight year-old Henri. He starts school at the Lycée Fontanes in October, and his classmates include his cousin Louis Pascal and Maurice Joyant, who is to become his friend and his first biographer. He covers his schoolbooks with sketches and caricatures. René Princeteau, a friend of his father and a deaf-mute artist who paints animals, gives him his first drawing lessons.

1875- In January, young Henri is in fragile health and goes back to Albi with his mother. He is given private lessons. Regular baths at the spa in Amélie-les-Bains are prescribed to help him to grow. His mother consults several doctors over the following years.

1878- Henri has hardly grown over the past ten years. In May, the young boy breaks his left thighbone in a fall in Albi. With his leg in plaster, he is bedridden for a long time. He recovers in Barèges, Amélie-les-Bains and Nice, where he spends his time reading, drawing and painting.

1879- In August Henri breaks his right thighbone whilst walking with his mother in Barèges. His legs stop growing. These fractures could be due to insufficient ossification (osteogenesis imperfecta), a congenital abnormality. But in fact, his illness stays non-identified. All medical treatments prove to be ineffective, including electric shock treatment, and Henri remains crippled. His legs, suffering from rickets and almost completely straight, have to support an enormous torso. He never grows taller than 1.52m (5 ft).

1880- Henri stays in Nice from January to March. Encouraged by his uncle Charles, he does a lot of painting and drawing in Albi and Céleyran. Since 1871, Henri has created some 2400 drawings using a variety of techniques.

1881- In July, Henri fails his baccalauréat in Paris but is accepted in Toulouse for the October session. This is when he decides to become an artist. With the support of Princeteau and his uncle Charles, he eventually talks his mother round. He returns to Paris and stays with Princeteau in his studio at 233 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

1882- Henri spends winter in Albi and Céleyran. In March, he leaves for Paris to study the Arts. He works in Princeteau’s studio where he meets the painter Jean-Louis Forain. On the 17th April, on Princeteau and Henri Rachou’s recommendation, he starts work in famous exhibition artist Léon Bonnat’s studio, at no. 30 Avenue de Clichy. Bonnat, who becomes a teacher at the Académie de Paris in 1883, is a very strict drawing teacher, but he doesn’t have much respect for his student. After Bonnat’s studio closes in September, Henri, like most of his fellow student’s, studies with Ferdon Cormon in his studio at 10 rue Constance. His classmates include Rachou, Albert Grenier, Charles Laval, François Gauzi, and Louis Anquetin. He also gets to know Emile Bernard and Vincent Van Gogh at Cormon’s studio.

— Le Jeune Routy à Céleyran

1883- Lautrec has his first relationship with Marie Charlet, a 17 year-old “model”, but there is no proof… With Bernard as the intermediary, he meets “Father” Tanguy who presents him with works by Cézanne. In May, his mother buys the castle of Malromé, not far from Bordeaux, where Henri spends many summers.

1884- Moves to 19bis rue Fontaine in Montmartre, sub-letting from Lily and Albert Grenier. Meets Edgar Degas, whose studio is in the house next door (until 1891), and holds a great admiration for him. After that, Henri lives and paints at his friend Rachou’s house, at 22 rue Canneron, and then with Gauzi, at no. 7 rue Tourlaque. Takes part in his first collective exhibition in Pau.

— La Grosse Maria ou Vénus de Montmartre

1885- Lautrec frequents Montmartre’s cabarets – the Elysée-Montmartre, the Moulin de la Galette – but has a preference for Artistide Bruant’s Mirliton where he also displays his work. He stays with Anquetin in Etrepagny (Normandy) and with the Greniers in Villiers-sur-Morin.

1886- He spends his summer in Villiers-sur-Morin, Malromé, Arcachon and Respide. He meets Van Gogh in Cormon’s studio and they become friends. He leaves Cormon’s studio in the autumn and rents a studio at no. 7 rue Tourlaque, on the corner of rue Caulaincourt, which he keeps until 1897. This is where he meets Suzanne Valadon, who models for him. She is his mistress until she attempts suicide in 1888.

— La Blanchisseuse

1887- Lives with doctor Henri Bourges at no. 19 rue Fontaine until 1891. Takes part in a collective exhibition in Toulouse in May under the assumed name of “Treclau”, an anagram of Lautrec. Van Rysselberghe invites him to an exhibition in Brussels, and he exhibits with Van Gogh and Anquetin in Paris. Develops an interest in coloured Japanese prints. — Portrait de Vincent Van Gogh

1888- Belgian critic Octave Maus invites him to present eleven pieces at the “Vingt” (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Théo Van Gogh buys Poudre de Riz (Rice Powder) at a price of 150 Francs for the Goupil gallery. Lautrec spends his autumn in Villiers-sur-Morin.

1889- Participates regularly in the “Salon des Indépendants” (Independent’s exhibition) and the “Cercle artistique et littéraire Volnay” (the Volnay art and literature society) from now until 1894. He paints a series of outdoor portraits in the Père Forest garden in Montmartre. Spends the summer in Arcachon. Wins a regatta race aboard the “Damrémont” yacht. The Moulin Rouge opens on 90 boulevard de Clichy on the 5th October. Lautrec becomes a regular. He has a table reserved and displays his work there.

1890- Lautrec goes to Brussels with Signac and Guibert in January for the opening of the “Vingt” (the Twenties) exhibition. Scandal breaks out when Lautrec defends Van Gogh and challenges H. de Groux to a duel. The duel doesn’t take place. On the 6th April, not long before he commits suicide, Van Gogh visits Lautrec in Paris. His classmate Joyant takes over from Théo Van Gogh at the Goupil gallery, on Montmartre hill. Spends the summer in Taussat, a seaside resort. Trips to Biarritz and San Sebastian. Lautrec meets Jane Avril. He paints Moulin-Rouge (Dressage des nouvelles par Valentin le Désossée – Valentin le Désossée dressing the new girls), which Joseph Oller, the manager, soon buys for the establishment.

1891- Moves in to the house next door, no.21 rue de la Fontaine, with Bourges. Stays in Arcachon and Malromé in August. In the autumn, his cousin and friend Gabriel Tapié of Céleyran comes to Paris to study medicine. Lautrec makes his first engravings. Creates “A la Mie”, and the notorious Moulin-Rouge poster that makes him famous overnight amongst the elite of Paris.

1892- Goes to Brussels in February for an exhibition, and to London at the end of May. Spends the end of the summer in Taussat. Has a project of a print for Yvette Guilbert, but she declines. He designs the prints for the Divan Japonais and for Bruant.

1893- Joyant organises Lautrec’s first large private exhibition – 30 pieces – at the Boussod-Valadon gallery. Lautrec visits Bruant in Saint-Jean-les-deux-Jumeaux in April. He lives and works in the same house, on rue Tourlaque. His mother moves into rue de Douai nearby. Lautrec is introduced to the literary world, in particular that of the theatre, through the intermediary of Bernard, Romain Coolus and Félix Fénéon. He attends all the premières. He lives for some time in a brothel converted from a XVII century palace on rue d’Amboise, and produces 16 works there. He takes part in the “painters-engravers” exhibition and presents eleven lithographs. Lautrec moves in to his mother’s apartment temporarily when Bourges gets married. Creates the poster for Jane Avril’s show in the Jardin de Paris.

1894- In January, Lautrec moves in to a ground floor flat at 27 rue Caulaincourt for 18 months. He goes to Brussels with Anquetin for the “La Libre Esthétique” (Free Aesthetics) exhibition, then on to Haarlem and Amsterdam where they study Rembrandt and Hals. Exhibition in Toulouse in May. In June and October, Lautrec goes to London where he displays posters for the “Royal Aquarium”. Sets out on a long journey to Spain during the summer, which takes him to Burgos, Madrid and Tolède. Stays with his mother in Malromé. Album of lithographs for Yvette Guilbert. Spends a lot of time with Natanson’s entourage and his “Revue Blanche” (White Review); meets the Nabis Bonnard, Vuillard and Vallotton. Lives in a brothel for some time.

— Au Salon de la rue des Moulins

1895- Goes to Brussels for the “La Libre Esthéthique” (Free Aesthetics) exhibition and leaves for London with Joyant in May. Meets Oscar Wilde and Whistler, who he sees as role models. Excursions to Normandy with Dethomas. Lives at 30 rue Fontaine from June onwards, and stays there until 1898. Sails to Lisbon via Bordeaux on the “Chili” in August with Maurice Guibert. They come back via Madrid and Tolède where they study Vélasquez, Goya and Le Greco. Takes part in a major lithographs exhibition at the School of Fine Arts in Paris; creates the scenery for La Goulue’s fairground stall at the Trône Fair, held on what is now the Place de la Nation; frequents the “Irish and American Bar”. Meeting with singer May Belfort. Poster for May Milton and portraits of Cha-U-Kao.

1896- Second major private exhibition in Joyant’s gallery, 9 rue Forest, which attracts numerous visitors. Lautrec refuses to sell a piece to the old King of Serbia, who he sees as a vulgar “pig farmer”. Stays in Havre, Bordeaux and Arcachon. Goes to Brussels with Joyant in February. In August, sets out on a long journey to Spain and goes to Burgos, Madrid and Tolède. Develops an interest in erotic Japanese coloured prints in general, and those by Utamaro in particular. Visits castles in the Loire in November. Takes part in a poster exhibition in Reims. T. Bernard introduces Lautrec to the world of bicycle racing. He creates two prints on the theme. “Les Elles” lithographies album.

1897- Takes part in a “Libre Esthetique” (Free Aesthetics) exhibition in Brussels in February. In May, moves his studio to 15 avenue Frochot, not far from the Place Pigalle (until 1898). Leaves behind 87 works which the new tenants use to cover holes in the wallpaper; the rest are sold for next to nothing. Goes to London with Joyant in February. Sails Holland’s canals on a barge with Dethomas. Hardly paints but drinks a lot. Has an attack of delirium tremens during the summer in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne.

1898- His mother rents an apartment at no. 9 rue de Douai. Exhibits 78 works at Goupil’s gallery in London in May. Second lithograph album dedicated to Yvette Guilbert, for London editor Sands. Rarely sober, his work diminishes. Spends the summer in Arromanches and Villeneuve-sur-Yonne. Suffers from a persecution delirium, believes he is being pursued by the police and takes refuge at a friends house.

1899- Provides the illustrations for Jules Renard’s “Histoires Naturelles” (Natural histories). Bouts of depression, obsession and anxiety become more and more frequent. In addition to this, his beloved mother leaves Paris in January to look after her own mother who is ill in Albi. Lautrec has an alcoholic fit in the brothel on rue des Moulins. He is confined to a mental hospital on avenue de Madrid in Neuilly at the end of February, and stays there until the 17th May. His mental state sparks unkind remarks in the press. During his time in hospital, he draws circus scenes from memory using coloured pencils. He becomes more famous after the scandal he provokes, and prices go up. Takes his convalescence in Albi, Le Crotoy, Le Havre and Bordeaux, where Paul Viaud takes care of him. The two of them go to Taussat in a yacht. Lautrec spends his autumn with Viaud in Paris.

— L’Anglaise du Star au Havre et En Cabinet particulier ou Au Rat-Mort

1900- Argues with his family, who want him to have a guardian. Loses his lust for life, falls back into alcoholism. Is member of a jury to judge posters at the Universal Exhibition in Paris; participates in a wheelchair. Stays in Taussat from May to September, then rents an apartment and a studio in Bordeaux for himself and Viaud in October (until April 1901). Viaud is responsible for keeping an eye on his alcohol consumption.

1901- Attends numerous theatre productions and dedicates six paintings to Messaline. Another fit in March results in cerebral haemorrhaging; his legs are paralysed. From the beginning of April, he spends three months in Paris where he settles his estate and signs important works. On the 15th July, he leaves Paris permanently with Viaud. He goes back to the Arcachon basin, then to Taussat. On the 15th August, he has a stroke in Taussat which leaves him paralysed on one side. On the 20th August, his mother takes him to Malromé where he dies on the 9th September at 2.15am, aged 36, in the presence of his parents, his cousin Gabriel and Viaud. His funeral is held in Saint-André-du-Bois; his remains are later transferred to Verdelais (in Gironde). His last two paintings are “L’Amiral Viaud” (Admiral Viaud) and “Un Examen à la faculté de médecine à Paris” (An exam at the faculty of medicine in Paris).

Artistic Works by: Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri ∼ Centaur Art Gallery
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