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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Nov.24, 1864-Sept. 9, 1901...France

"I can paint until I'm forty. After that I intend to dry up."
~Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

One of the more interesting figures of art history was the master of design, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Beyond being known for his designs, he was a great illustrator, painter, and poster maker who immortalized the Paris and Montmartre cabaret clubs, most famously the Moulin Rouge. He began his life with his wealthy French family. His parents (who were also first cousins) separate when he was four and he would live most of his young (and adult) life in Paris living with his mother. His father set him up with his first drawing lessons when Henri was about nine years old. This instruction came from René Princeteau, a deaf-mute artist who painted animals. It was evident when he was about ten that he was short for his age. This was due to a calcium deficiency. His small brittle bones broke somewhat easily. At the age of fourteen, being the size of an average six year old, he broke his left thighbone. Through his long recovery he spent a great deal of time drawing and painting. The following year he broke his right thighbone as he was walking with him mom. His legs were done growing and this gave him a dwarf-like appearance, reaching a height of four feet six inches tall. "I had placed my stick on the table, as I do every evening. It had been specially made to suit my height, to enable me to walk without too much difficulty. As I was standing up, a customer called to me: 'Monsieur, don't forget your pencil.' It was very unkind, but most funny." Again this gave him an opportunity to create a lot of art. By the time he was sixteen, he had created some 2,400 drawings. "I am certainly not regenerating French art, but am struggling hard to accomplish something on an unlucky piece of paper which has done me no harm at all, and on which, believe me, I am doing nothing that is good....I hope things will improve eventually; as it is, I am pretty wretched."

From early on in his life, Toulouse-Lautrec quickly moved toward a career in art. At the age of seventeen he made the career official, moving in with Princeteau in Paris. Soon he would meet and learns from artists like Jean-Louis Forain, Henri Rachou, and Léon Bonnat. Bonnat was a famed exhibiting artist and a teacher at the Académie de Paris at the time. Although Bonnat gave little respect to Henri, he moved to work in Bonnat's studio. He moved on to work at Ferdon Cormon’s studio where he met other artists like François Gauzi, Emile Bernard, and Vincent van Gogh. "In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new; they see their value and their justification in this newness. They are deceiving themselves; novelty is seldom the essential. This has to do with one thing only; making a subject better from its intrinsic nature." Actually, Henri and Vincent were good friends. Vincent made it a point to visit Toulouse-Lautrec on his last trip to Paris, only three weeks before committing suicide. On the other hand, Henri challenged a man to a dual for insulting van Gogh. He was also friendly with Edgar Degas, Oscar Wilde, and James McNeill Whistler, whom Toulouse-Lautrec looked to as examples of great men and artists. For a short time he worked under the name "Treclau", an anagram of Lautrec.

On October fifth, 1889, the Moulin Rouge opens and Toulouse-Lautrec becomes a regular. He even had a table reserved and displayed his work there. All of his greatest works center on the human form. Whether in the street or at the show, the people in the works captivate the viewer. "Only the human figure exists; landscape is, and should be, no more than an accessory; the painter exclusively of landscape is nothing but a bore. The sole function of landscape is to heighten the intelligibility of the character of the figure. Corot's greatness is revealed in his figures, likewise that of Millet, Renoir, and of Whistler; when a figure painter executes a landscape he treats it as if it were a face; Degas' landscapes are unparalleled because they are visionary landscapes. Monet's work would have been even greater if he had not abandoned figure-painting." He had created A la Mie, the notorious painting of a couple at the Moulin Rouge. He used a photograph to help compose this work that literally makes Toulouse-Lautrec famous overnight with the Paris elite.

A la Mie
1891.oil paint on millboard mounted on panel. 21 x 26.7 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass., USA.

Another of his truely great paintings was simply titled At the Moulin-Rouge. With a self-portrait included into the work (walking beside a tall man at the top of the work) this shows many of his croud of friends.

At the Moulin-Rouge

1892. Oil on Canvas. 48¼ x 55¼. Art Institute of Chicago, Il. USA.

Toulouse-Lautrec was eager to sell works and make a name for himself in the art world. At the same time, he would not sell to someone he disliked. In 1896 he refuses to sell a piece to the old King of Serbia. Toulouse-Lautrec considered him a vulgar "pig farmer." This is quite a statement from a man that preferred friends that were the outcasts of society. The drunks, prostitutes, and all people most consider low lives of society. As time passed, he became an unproductive alcoholic. He would eat dinner with his mother before going out each night. "One should drink little...but often." By 1898 he was rarely sober. Alocholic and syphilis induced hallucinations and paranoia consumed his life. On one occasion, visiting friends heard gun shorts from his room, where the found him sitting on his bed shooting at spiders that were not there. This also had a declining affect on the quality of his work.

After an alcoholic fit of rage in a brothel, he was confined to a mental hospital from February through May of 1899, but soon reverts to his alcoholic tendencies. On August 15, 1901 he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side. He would soon die at 2:15 am on September 9, in his mothers arms after saying "Old fool" to his father that was trying to kill a fly. A great artist that developed from only thirty-six years of life. Over his years he created some 1,000 paintings, 5,000 drawings, and 350 prints and posters. His mother and his art dealer continued to promote and sell his work. Toulouse-Lautrec’s works have sold for as much as $14.5 million

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Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063