Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, printmaker, and poster artist. Born in Albi into the aristocratic family of Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa, he divided his early years between the family estates and school in Paris. His health was delicate, and he broke both femurs, one at 14, one at 15. These injuries left him with a normal torso, but stunted legs. He showed an early capacity for drawing and painting, and was encouraged by the animal painter René Princeteau (1843 - 1914). In 1882 he entered the atelier of Léon Bonnat, a strict academic teacher; he worked conscientiously and devotedly, and produced many drawings after the model. In 1883 he moved to Cormon's atelier, where he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh.
Among the influences on his early paintings were Manet, J.A.M. Whistler, and the Impressionists in general, but he reserved his greatest admiration for Degas. The influence of Japanese prints is also clear. In 1885 he finally settled in Paris; from then until his death, he was to observe urban life, especially that of the circus, theater, dance-hall, and brothel. His important paintings include the Equestrienne of the Fernando Circus of 1888, At the Moulin Rouge of 1892 (both Art Institute of Chicago), and the Salon in the Rue des Moulins of 1894 (Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi). He became a master of summary characterization, of tellingly abbreviated spatial effects, of the laconic line, and of heightened, non-naturalistic color. Most of his paintings were done with thinned oil-paint on unprimed cardboard; some were works in their own right; others, however, were rapid studies for his pictures and his posters.
It was in 1891 that Toulouse-Lautrec produced his first poster for the Moulin Rouge. Its large size, its eye-catching play of flattened and exaggerated shapes (for instance the continuous black silhouette of the onlookers in the background), and its simple and direct use of color revolutionized the art of the poster, transforming it from the Rococo-inspired extravaganzas of Jules Cheret into the immediacy of Art Nouveau. Toulouse-Lautrec designed some 31 posters: in each, his exploitation of the resources of color lithography was skillful, idiosyncratic, and assured.
He began using lithography as early as 1885, but his greatest period of production was during the 1890s, coinciding with his work on the posters. Many of his lithographs were produced as series by the rapidly expanding print publishers. Among them are Le Café Concert (1893), 16 lithographs of the performer Yvette Guilbert (1894; text by Gustave Geoffroy), followed by a further set of the same (1898), Elles, a set of 11 lithographs (1896), and Les Histoires Naturelles of Jules Renard (1899).
Throughout his career, Toulouse-Lautrec used pastel and watercolor with brevity and wit. During a period of convalescence in a clinic in 1899, he worked on a series of drawings of the circus. His last paintings show a trend towards Expressionism, both in mood and in color.
Further reading Adheman, J. Toulouse-Lautrec: his Complete Lithographs and Drypoints, New York (1965). Caproni, G. and Sugana, G.M. L'Opera Completa di Toulouse-Lautrec, Milan (1969). Cooper, D. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, London (1955). Toulouse-Lautrec, H. (ed. Goldschmidt, L. and Schimmel, H.) Unpublished Correspondence, London (1969).
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