Sunday, 9 September 2012


“I paint things as they are. I don't comment.” - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901), was a French postimpressionist painter, lithographer, and illustrator, who documented the bohemian nightlife of late-19th-century Paris. His art broke new ground bringing together the immediacy of drawing, the verve of poster graphics and the painterly style of the studio canvas. His use of fluid line and bold colour married well with his masterly composition and his wide thematic work challenged the social and cultural mores of his time.

The artist was born in Albi into one of the oldest aristocratic families. Henri was weak and often sick. By the time he was 10 he had begun to draw and paint. At 12 young Toulouse-Lautrec broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. During his convalescence, his mother encouraged him to paint. He subsequently studied with French academic painters L. J. F. Bonnat and Fernand Cormon.

He stayed in the Montmartre section of Paris, the centre of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to paint. Circuses, dance halls, nightclubs, racetracks and Parisian brothels – all these spectacles were set down on canvas or made into lithographs. Toulouse-Lautrec was very much a part of all this activity. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, and at the same time he would make swift sketches.

Toulouse-Lautrec preserved his impressions of these places and their celebrities in portraits and sketches of striking originality and power. Outstanding examples are “La Goulou Entering the Moulin Rouge” (1892, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi), “Jane Avril Entering the Moulin Rouge” (1892, Courtauld Gallery, London), and “Au salon de la rue des Moulins” (1894, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec).

Toulouse-Lautrec, many of whose works are in the museum that bears his name in Albi, was a prolific creator. His oeuvre includes great numbers of paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs, and posters, as well as illustrations for various contemporary newspapers. He incorporated into his own highly individual method elements of the styles of various contemporary artists, especially French painters Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin. Japanese art, then coming into vogue in Paris, influenced his use of sharp delineation, asymmetric composition, oblique angles, and flat areas of color. His work inspired Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Georges Rouault.

His alcoholic dissipation, however, eventually brought on a paralytic stroke, to which he succumbed at Malromé, one of his family's estates. Since then his paintings and posters (particularly the 'Moulin Rouge' group) have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales.

Lautrec's 1889-90 painting “At The Moulin Rouge – TheDance” is characteristic of his work. Vivacious colour, wonderfully sparse drawing that contributes to the liveliness of the work and a composition that is beautifully balanced and focuses our attention on the dancing figure despite the carefully laid out figures of the foreground.

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