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Home / Great Artists / T / Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec / Biography
Biography Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Biography


French Post-Impressionist Painter and Printmaker

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (November 24, 1864 - September 9, 1901) was a French painter, printmaker, draftsman, and illustrator, whose immersion in the decadent and theatrical life of fin de siecle Paris yielded an oeuvre of provocative images of modern life.

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa was born in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees Region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec. An aristocratic family that had recently fallen on hard times, the Toulouse-Lautrecs were still feeling the effects of the inbreeding of past generations; the Comte and Comtesse were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of intermarriage. A younger brother was born to the family on August 28, 1867, but died the following year.

At ages 13 and 14, Henri fractured his left and right thigh bones, respectively. The breaks did not heal properly (modern physicians attribute this to an unknown genetic disorder along the lines of osteoporosis or osteogenesis imperfecta; others speak of rachitism aggravated with praecox virilism), and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 1.52 m/5 ft tall, having developed an adult-sized torso but retained his child-sized legs (0.70 m/27.5 in long). On the other hand, he had hypertrophied genitals as some of his photos prove.
Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

He was declared to be "the soul of Montmartre", the Parisian quarter where he made his home. He often portrayed life at the Moulin Rouge and other Montmartre and Parisian cabaret and theaters, and, particularly, in the brothels that he frequented avidly (alledgedly, he contracted syphilis from Rosa la Rouge, who lived in a brothel). He lived there for long periods among the women that adopted him wholeheartedly and made him their confidant and the witness of their most intimate acts that inspired the lesbian scenes of many of his drawings and paintings. He painted singer Yvette Guilbert, Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue, a dancer who created the "French Can-Can", and dancer Jane Avril.
Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting lessons to Suzanne Valadon, one of his models (and, by all accounts, probably his mistress as well).
An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis just before his 37th birthday, at the family estate in Malrome; he is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from his birthplace. His last words reportedly were "Le vieux con!" ("Old fool"), when he saw his father trying to kill a fly in the room.

After his death, his mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, and Maurice Joyant, his art dealer, promoted his art. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works. As of 2005, his paintings had sold for as much as $14.5 million.