He was an aristocrat, the son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse and last in line of a family that dated back a thousand years. Henri's father was rich, handsome, and eccentric. His mother was overly devoted to her only living child. Henri was weak and often sick. By the time he was 10 he had begun to draw and paint.
Mr. Toulouse paints Mr. Lautrec (ca. 1891)
At 12 young Toulouse-Lautrec broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. Due to extreme inbreeding, (both his grandmothers were sisters and his parents were first cousins), his 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. He is reported to have had hypertrophied genitals.
Deprived of the kind of life that a normal body would have permitted, Toulouse-Lautrec lived wholly for his art. He stayed in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to paint. Circuses, dance halls and nightclubs, racetracks--all these spectacles were set down on canvas or made into lithographs.
In the Restaurant La MieToulouse-Lautrec was very much a part of all this activity. He would sit at a nightclub table, enjoying the show, drinking, and constantly sketching. The next morning in his studio he would expand the sketches into bright-colored paintings.
In order to become a part of the Montmartre life--as well as to protect himself against the crowd's ridicule of his appearance--Toulouse-Lautrec began to drink heavily. The invention of the cocktail "Earthquake" or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac (in a wine goblet, 3 parts Absinthe and 3 parts Cognac, sometimes served with ice cubes or shaken in a cocktail shaker filled with ice).
The style and content of Lautrec's posters were heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Areas of flat color bound by strong outlines, silhouettes, cropped compositions, and oblique angles are all typical of woodblock prints by artists like Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858) . Likewise, Lautrec's promotion of individual performers is very similar to the depictions of famous actors, actresses, and courtesans from the so-called "floating world" of Edo-period Japan
La GouleHis size also prevented him from having a "normal" relationship with a woman and from early on, he frequented brothels. Some of his most compassionate and powerful work is of the prostitutes of 19th century Paris. Since he was a cripple himself, he could look at these women as fellow-sufferers, wounded and brutalized and suffering underneath the power and rouge that they donned for their customers.
La Toilette, 1889
In the 1890s the drinking and syphillis started to affect his health. He was confined to a sanatorium and to his mother's care at home, but he could not stay away from alcohol.
Woman before a Mirror, 1897. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901)
Toulouse-Lautrec died on Sept. 9, 1901, at the family chateau of Malrome. Since then his paintings and posters--particularly theMoulin Rouge group--have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales.
Artchive: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/T/toulouse-lautrec.htmlToulouse-Lautrec: The Soul of Montmartre (Pegasus Library)
Toulouse Lautrec, A life by Julie Frey