Artists' biographies


by {{ author }} Arthur FOUASSE at Feb 13, 2023



Toulouse Lautrec was a French painter, draughtsman, lithographer, poster artist and illustrator, born on November 24, 1864 in Albi and died on September 9, 1901, at Château Malromé, in Saint-André-du-Bois.

In the 19th century, marriages in the nobility were commonly made between cousins in order to avoid the division of patrimony and the reduction of fortune. This was the case with Henri's parents, Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa and Adèle Tapié de Céleyran, first cousins. They had two sons, Henri, the eldest, and, four years later, his brother Richard-Constantin, who died a year later. Henri grew up between Albi, between the castle of Bosc3(home of his grandparents and also of his childhood) and the castle of Celeyran.

In the 19th century, marriages in the nobility were commonly made between cousins in order to avoid the division of patrimony and the reduction of fortune. This was the case with Henri's parents, Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa and Adèle Tapié de Céleyran, first cousins. They had two sons, Henri, the eldest, and, four years later, his brother Richard-Constantin, who died a year later. Henri grew up between Albi, between the castle of Bosc3(home of his grandparents and also of his childhood) and the castle of Celeyran.

Toulouse-Lautrec, son of Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838-1913) and Adèle Tapié de Céleyran (1841-1930), was born into one of the Vintageest noble families in France. It claims to be a direct descendant of the Counts of Toulouse, who were among the most powerful feudal lords in the kingdom until the 13th century. However, this family, in spite of its illustrious name, lived as a well-to-do family of the provincial nobility

The incompatibility of moods between the two parents leads to their separation and Henry remains in the custody of his mother.

Health problems and disability

Lautrec had a happy childhood until 1874, when a disease that affected the development of his bones, pycnodysostosis, a genetic disease due to the consanguinity of his parents, was revealed. His bones were fragile and on May 30, 1878, he stumbled and fell. The doctor diagnoses the left femur broken and, because of his disease, the fracture is badly reduced. Between May 1878 and August 1879, he suffered from this bilateral femur fracture, which aggravated his stunted growth: he did not grow taller than 1.52 m. They tried to cure him by means of electric shocks and by placing a large quantity of lead on each foot.

As always in this condition, his trunk is of normal size, but his limbs are short. He has thick lips and nose. He has a lisp and plays with it, acting provocatively in the salons. He was photographed naked on the beach at Trouville-sur-Mer, as a bearded altar boy, or with Jane Avril's boa (known as "Mélinite"), while being very aware of the discomfort his exhibitionism aroused.

A student at the Lycée Condorcet, he failed his baccalaureate in Paris in 1881, but passed in Toulouse in the October session. It was then that he decided to become an artist. Supported by his uncle Charles and by René Princeteau, a friend of his father's who was an animal painter, he finally convinced his mother. Back in Paris, he studied painting with René Princeteau in his studio at 233, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, then in April 1882 in the studio of Léon Bonnat, and in November 1882 in that of Fernand Cormon where he stayed until 1886 and where he met Van Gogh, Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin and Adolphe Albert, a military man who wanted to become a painter, with whom he was very close.


Parisian life

He lived for his art. As a painter of post-impressionism, an illustrator of Art Nouveau and a remarkable lithographer, he sketched the lifestyle of Parisian Bohemia at the end of the 19th century. In the mid-1890s, he contributed illustrations to the humorous weekly Le Rire.

Considered "the soul of Montmartre", the Parisian district where he has lived since he moved in 1884 to 19 bis, rue Fontaine, his paintings depict life at the Moulin Rouge and other cabarets and theaters in Montmartre and Paris. He painted Aristide Bruant but also prostitution in Paris through the brothels he frequented and where, perhaps, he contracted syphilis. In particular, he had a room at La Fleur blanche. Three of the famous women he portrayed were Jane Avril, the singer Yvette Guilbert and Louise Weber, better known as La Goulue, an eccentric dancer who imported the cancan from England to France.

He gave painting lessons and encouraged the efforts of Suzanne Valadon, one of his models and also probably his mistress.



An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he used to mix his daily absinthe with cognac, in defiance of the etiquette of the time. In particular, he used the subterfuge of a hollow cane to hide a supply of alcohol. He was admitted to a sanatorium shortly before his death at Malromé, his mother's estate, following complications from his alcoholism and syphilis.

He died at the age of 36 and was buried in the cemetery of Verdelais (Gironde) a few kilometers from Malromé.

His last words are for his father, present at the time of his death, alluding to the tastes of this whimsical aristocrat and hunting enthusiast: "I knew, Daddy, that you wouldn't miss the hallali12. " We also quote his lapidary reaction to seeing his father, a hunter at heart, trying to touch a fly that is flying on his son's deathbed with the elastic of one of his boots: "The Vintage fool!"

In the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, reference is made to the artist's last words to his mother. Lautrec's relationship with his father has been the subject of much speculation.

The painter was not an artist cursed by his family, quite the contrary. His father wrote to Gabrielle de Toulouse-Lautrec, his mother and therefore the painter's paternal grandmother, on the evening of his son's death: "Malromé, September 9, 1901: Ah dear Mother, what sadness. God did not bless our union. May his will be done, but it is very hard to see the order of nature reversed. I can't wait to join you after the sad spectacle of the long agony of my poor child, so harmless, never having had for his father a word. Pity us. Alphonse."

After Toulouse-Lautrec's death, Maurice Joyant, his close friend, protector and art dealer, wanted to promote his work with the agreement of Countess Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec. They donated the necessary funds for a museum to be created in Albi, the city where the artist was born, and offered their superb collection of paintings.


His art

Despite a short life marked by illness, the painter's work is very extensive: the catalog raisonné of his works, published in 1971, lists 737 paintings, 275 watercolors, 369 lithographs (including posters) and about 5,000 drawings.

In his youth, horses were a regular subject for him. Since childhood, he loved horseback riding and had to give it up because of his illness. He continued to bring his passion for horses to life in his works.

Early in his career he painted some male nudes as exercises, but his best nudes are of women. In general, he preferred to start from sketches, but many of his nudes must have been done from life. Usually his models are not beautiful young girls, but women who are beginning to age. He was inspired by Edgar Degas to paint this kind of picture.

He never stopped drawing: some drawings are works in themselves, but many are sketches for paintings or lithographs. Sometimes his drawings resembled caricatures which, in a few strokes, rendered a gesture or an expression; to realize them, he used various means (pencil, ink, pastel and charcoal).

Although he did not practice photography himself, he counted among his friends and companions the professional photographer Paul Sescau and the amateur photographers Maurice Guibert and François Gauzi. He was regularly photographed by them and liked to dress up. He used photos of his models or characters as a basis for some of his works. The spontaneity and sense of movement of his compositions often come from the photographic snapshot.

Toulouse-Lautrec, like Gauguin, the Nabis painters and Steinlen, produced paintings for art galleries as well as illustrations for cheap magazines sVintage at newsstands. He created 31 posters and 325 lithographs, inventing an original spray technique, consisting of scratching a toothbrush loaded with ink or paint with a knife. As an illustrator, Toulouse-Lautrec created posters that have become famous and, a lesser known part of his work, he also illustrated some forty songs, hits mainly performed in the three great Parisian cabarets of the time: the Moulin-Rouge, the Mirliton of Aristide Bruant.

Not needing to execute commissioned works, Lautrec chose subjects he knew well or faces that interested him, and since he socialized with people of all kinds, his paintings cover a wide range of social classes: nobles and artists, writers and sportsmen, doctors, nurses, and picturesque figures of Montmartre. Many of his paintings (such as the Salon de la rue des Moulins) show prostitutes because he considered them ideal models for the spontaneity with which they knew how to move, whether they were naked or half-dressed. He painted their lives with curiosity, but without moralism or sentimentality and, above all, without trying to attribute to them any fascinating character. He went to the brothel for pleasure as well as for necessity (because of his handicap, he found a real affection there, so that he stood out by giving to see images without moralizing judgment and without voyeurism). A real mascot of the prostitutes, they gave him the nickname of "coffee maker" because of his priapism or the proportion of one of his sexual organs.

His friend Henri Rachou (1856-1944) painted his portrait in 1883.

Toulouse-Lautrec and the circus

At the end of the 19th century, circus shows were very numerous in France. Toulouse-Lautrec regularly visited the itinerant circuses of the provinces and the stable circuses of Paris. In the working-class areas of Paris, only two circuses were present: the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris and the Fernando circus in Montmartre. In the more upscale areas of Paris, several circuses offered spectacular performances, such as the Hippodrome with its famous chariot races, the Cirque d'été near the Champs-Élysées, the Cirque Molier on Rue Benouville and the Nouveau Cirque, where Chocolat performed, on Rue Saint-Honoré.

René Princeteau, a deaf-mute painter and friend of Toulouse-Lautrec's family circle, was asked by the artist's father to teach him the art of painting and drawing. Indeed, René Princeteau had an exceptional gift for painting and drawing horses and dogs. In the early 1880s, he introduced Toulouse-Lautrec to the Fernando Circus, located at the top of the Rue des Martyrs in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec's father, an aristocrat with a passion for horses, had frequently taken his son to the Molier Circus when the family moved to Paris in 1872.

Toulouse-Lautrec was then passionate about the circus. This environment reminds him of the non-conformism of his family circle. He was also attracted to these shows by the moving bodies, the athletic performances of the artists and the postures of the animals. The world of the circus also interests him because of the links that can be tied to the ancient circus and its feeding of the bruised and tortured bodies given in spectacle.

The other attraction of the circus experienced by Toulouse-Lautrec is the parallel that can be drawn between the bodies of circus artists in performance and his own body. "It is a suffering body, which draws suffering bodies," as one of the editors of the catalog of the exhibition "The circus in the time of Toulouse-Lautrec," at the Raymond Lafage Museum, which took place in Lisle-sur-Tarn from June 18, 2016 to October 31, 2016, points out. "The number imposes its daily pain with the repetitions: muscular hypertrophy of the arms, legs, outraged arching of the backs, limbs, rickets, on the contrary, of the bodies dedicated to the acrobatics, to the imposed lightness." However, Toulouse-Lautrec does not wish to inspire complacency towards circus artists. "The show must be easy, graceful and joyful." As one of the editors of the exhibition catalog notes, "Would the show serve to hide...the show, I mean, the intimate, that of one's own life?"

Toulouse-Lautrec also felt close to the values linked to the circus world, particularly the notion of freedom.

At the beginning of 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec was hospitalized because of several mental disorders related to various ailments including alcoholism. He was interned in the clinic of Doctor Sémelaigne in Neuilly. In February 1899, to prove that he had recovered his mental health and his ability to work, he drew from memory with black pencil and colored pencils a series of 39 drawings on the circus. They depict Amazons, trapeze artists, clowns, bear and elephant trainers, horses and performing dogs. The stands are drawn empty. The audience is absent as if to show that the painter is there against his will. The doctors, dazzled by the coherence of these works and the dynamics of the movements represented, let him out on May 17, 1899, thus recognizing the perfect state of his memory and his remarkable technicality. As Toulouse-Lautrec so poetically said, "I bought my freedom with my drawings."

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec on vacation in the Arcachon basin

Lautrec first came to Arcachon in 1872, at the age of 8, with his mother Adèle. At that time, his uncle Ernest Pascal was the prefect of the Gironde, and he took advantage of the presence of his three cousins, who were renting in Arcachon or staying at the Grand Hôtel, to play on the beach and swim, despite his handicap, especially with his cousin Louis, who was the same age as him.

As an adult, he joined the Arcachon Basin almost every summer where he enjoyed fishing, sailing, swimming and other seaside pleasures with his friends, taking advantage of the air that was beneficial to his fragile lungs.

In 1885, he discovered the village of Taussat (commune of Lanton) thanks to the hygienist Henri Bourges, who hosted him in Paris, while this doctor joined a colleague, Dr. Robert Wurtz, who was staying in the vast family property stretching between Andernos and Taussat.

While the Pascal family, due to a reversal of fortune in 1892, no longer came to Arcachon, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, made other arrangements and took advantage that same year of the hospitality of Louis Fabre (1860-1923), a magistrate from Agen, whom he had met in Paris probably around 1890, and from whom Lautrec had bought the villa Bagatelle in Taussat, as well as a sailboat named Belle Hélène, in homage to Fabre's fiancee and future wife, Hélène Estève (1859- ?). Lautrec would stay with the Fabre family until his death in 1901.

His photographer friend, Maurice Guibert, often accompanied him to Arcachon or Taussat. In 1896, he experimented with fishing with cormorants that his father Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec, an authentic master falconer, had taught him to train in his youth.

Lautrec had known for a long time a ruined shipowner from Bordeaux, Paul Viaud (1846-1906), 18 years his senior, who in 1899 was entrusted by the Toulouse-Lautrec family to look after Henri, who had become an alcoholic, undermined by absinthe, and who had to be locked up in a nursing home that same year in Neuilly.

It was at the Villa Bagatelle, in Taussat in August 1901, that the painter appeared in a last photograph, severely weakened by tuberculosis contracted a few months earlier. Victim of nervous attacks that gradually paralyzed him, he was rushed to Malromé, where he died on September 9, 1901.

Far from the Parisian places of pleasure, the painter came to make a kind of cure, forgetting his physical handicap and finding another joy of living. The paintings done during his stays are far from the Montmartre subjects that made his reputation and were intended to thank his hosts for their welcome. The reconstructed history of his vacations on the Arcachon basin gives us a much healthier vision of this character.

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