Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1864-1901 BACK

French painter born at Albi into an aristocratic family. Physically frail, he broke both legs in accidents of 1878-9, after which he remained crippled. He studied in Paris (1882-5) under Bormat and Cormon, was a student with Bernard and met Lautrec in 1886. He was aware of Impressionism, but his first important work Le Cirque Fernando (1888) is formally closer to Manet, Degas and the poster artist Jules Cheret. In studying the same aspects of contemporary life as Degas - racecourses, music, and dance-halls, cabarets, Lautrec foreshadowed Seurat and the Nabis in his flat treatment of forms enlivened by curvilinear contours.

A personal friend of the singers and dancers, Lautrec was a central figure of the society he depicted and the intimacy of a painting such as Les Deux Amies (1894) is characteristic. Like Degas he worked in a wide range of media often freely mixed: his reputation as a graphic artist was established with his earliest posters and lithographs (1891-2). His prolific output shrank with his deteriorating health and his last painting, the Examination Board (1901), an uncomfortable attempt to reorientate his art, betrays his spiritual and physical exhaustion. His work inspired Rouault, Seurat, Lautrec and others and his brief career was an important manifestation of the fin de siecle intensity and exoticism (he admired Wilde enormously) which swept Europe and which can be seen for example in the early work of Picasso.

An excerpt from Toulouse-Lautrec by Gerhard Gruitrooy
For about fifteen years, Lautrec produced works in his own characteristic style. His enormous creative output was cut short by mental and physical illnesses which were worsened by alcoholism and syphilis. During an attack of delirium tremens at the house of the Natansons in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in the summer of 1897, he saw huge spiders in his room and fired at them with a revolver. After suffering hallucinations while walking in the streets of Paris, Lautrec's family had the artist cominitted to a mental hospital. The conservative press leapt on Lautrec's dementia and launched personal attacks on the artist and his work. Aware of his physical and mental decline, Lautrec wrote to his father begging to be released: "Papa, this is your chance to do the decent thing. I am confined, and all confined things die."

A three-month-stay in the clinic, brought Lautrec temporary relief from his unstable and troubled condition. He recovered some of his health, and was able to work and travel again. He even enjoyed a brief affair with Louise Margouin (Louise Blouet), a milliner whose features and red hair Lautrec captured in one of his last paintings (The Milliner). From October, 1900 to April of 1901, he lived in Bordeaux where he had a fleeting, and frantically productive period inspired by two productions at the local opera. Despite the surveillance of his chaperon, Paul Viand and the efforts of his friends, Lautrec began to drink again and his health deteriorated.

In February, Lautrec suffered a stroke that temporily paralyzed him. His alarming bouts of amnesia became more frequent. Realizing that his health was now deteriorating, Lautrec heeded Joyant's suggestion to make a thorough inventory of his Paris studio to prepare for a major retrospective. The effort exhausted Lautrec. He returned to Malrome, and died there on September 9, 1901, in his mother's arms. Lautrec was thirty-seven.

His father, Alphonse Toulouse-Lautrec, wrote a deeply moving letter to Joyant asking Lautrec's friend to become the executor of the estate:

There is no generosity in my passing over to you any paternal rights that I may have as the heir to any work by my departed son: your brotherly friendship took the place of my feeble influence with such gentleness that it seems only right to ask you to continue to play this charitable role if you will, purely for the satisfaction of your tender feelings for your college friend; I do not envisage becoming a convert, and now that he is dead I do not intend to start singing the praises of work that during his lifetime was nothing to me but brazen, daring sketches ... You have greater faith in this work than I do and you are right.

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Image List

The Artist's Dog Fleche, 1881

Self Portrait, 1882

Carmen Gaudin, 1885

At Montrouge, 1886

First Communion Day, 1888

At the Moulin de la Galette, 1889

Lady with a Dog, 1891

Portrait of Monsieur Boileau, 1893

The Tattooed Woman, 1894

Yvette Guilbert Taking a Curtain Call, 1894

The Singer Yvette Guilbert, 1894

Oscar Wilde, 1895

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