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Definition: Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Marie Raymond de from Philip's Encyclopedia

French painter and lithographer. He chose a career in painting after an accident left his legs permanently deformed. In c.1888, he began to illustrate the theatres, cabarets, music halls, cafés, and brothels of the Montmartre district of Paris, such as the Moulin Rouge series (1894). He was profoundly influenced by Degas and drew inspiration from Gauguin and Japanese wood-block prints. The impact of his prints helped to establish the poster as a respected art form.

Summary Article: Toulouse-Lautrec(-Monfa), Henri (Marie Raymond) de
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


French painter and lithographer

He was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Albi. The first child of first cousins, he had increasingly severe physical problems, skeletal deformities and dwarfism which were almost certainly hereditary, and several of his cousins (also born to first cousins, his father's sister and his mother's brother) suffered even more extreme forms of the same genetic mishap. He showed early promise as an artist, and from 1882 he studied under Léon Bonnat in Paris and in 1884 settled in Montmartre, the area which his paintings and posters were to make famous. His early paintings were mainly of sporting subjects. He was later influenced by his contact with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, notably by Degas, but whereas Degas painted the world of ballet from a ballet-lover's theatrical point of view, Lautrec's studies of the cabaret stars, the prostitutes, the barmaids, the clowns and actors of Montmartre reveal an unfailing interest in the human being behind the purely professional function, as in The Two Friends (1894, Tate Collection), Jane Avril dansant (c.1892) and La Clownesse Cha-u-Kao (1895, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). He disliked models, preferring to concentrate on the human form caught in a characteristic, often intimate posture by his superb draughtsmanship regardless of chiaroscuro and background effects, as for example in Le Lit and La Toilette (1892 and 1896, Musée d'Orsay) and Tête-à -tête supper (c.1899, Courtauld Institute, London). His revolutionary poster designs influenced by Japanese woodcuts which flatten and simplify the subject matter demonstrate his gift for caricature, as in the posters of the music-hall star Aristide Bruant (1892) and Yvette Guilbert (1894). No one has portrayed so effectively the clientèle of these establishments as Toulouse-Lautrec in Monsieur Boileau at the Café (1892), The Bar (1898) and the Moulin Rouge paintings (1894). His works also depict fashionable society, as in At the Races (1899), and he executed remarkable portraits of his mother (1887), of Van Gogh in pastel (1887, Amsterdam) and a drawing of Oscar Wilde (1895). In 1895 he visited London, in 1896 Spain and in 1897 Holland. He was a heavy drinker and probably also suffered from syphilis, and his alcoholism brought on a complete breakdown, forcing him to go into a sanatorium; he recovered to resume his hectic life until his death from a paralytic stroke. Over 600 of his works are in the Musée Lautrec in Albi.

  • Frey, Julia, Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life (1994); Mack, Gerstle, Toulouse-Lautrec (1938).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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