Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1864-1901

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was born at the chateau de Malromé near Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées région of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa and Adèle Tapié de Celeyran. He was therefore a member of an aristocratic family (descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfa, a village and commune of the Tarn department of southern France). A younger brother was born on 28 August 1867, but died the following year.

After the death of his brother his parents separated and a nanny took care of Henri. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realised that Henri's talent lay in drawing and painting, and a friend of his father, Rene Princeteau visited sometimes to give informal lessons. Some of Henri's early paintings are of horses, a speciality of Princeteau, and something he later visited in his 'Circus Paintings'. 

In 1875 Henri returned to Albi because his mother recognised his health problems. He took thermal baths at Amélie-les-Bains and his mother consulted doctors in the hope of finding a way to improve her son's growth and development. 

Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed Henri in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years. After Bonnat took a new job, Henri moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat's, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to paint. In this period Toulouse-Lautrec had his first encounter with a prostitute (reputedly sponsored by his friends), which led him to paint his first painting of prostitutes in Montmartre, a woman rumoured to be called Marie-Charlotte. 

With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym "Tréclau", an anagram of the family name 'Lautrec'. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Vincent van Gogh's brother, Theo bought 'Poudre de Riz' (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Henri took part in the "Independent Artists' Salon" on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. At this time the 'Moulin Rouge' opened. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-head model who appears in The Laundress (1888). When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris, and while Henri had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but Henri was so aristocratic he did not care. The cabaret reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singerYvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue ("The Glutton"), who created the "French Can-Can"; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malromé at the age of 36. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from the Château Malromé, where he died. 

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