Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Figure 1 - Portrait of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Figure 1 - Portrait of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Figure 1) was born at Albi in the night of November 24, 1864 into an aristocratic family so that causes many problems in his life. The biggest problem was that he inherited a weakness of bones. He had two major leg injuries in his youth and he stopped growing and was crippled for life. According to Visani (1970, p. 3) his parents were first cousins, Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa and Adele Tapie de Celeyran, whose titles of nobility can be traced to the time of Charlemagne. He spent his childhood at his mother’s chateaux of Bosc and Celeyran with numerous cousins. His parents passion for hunting did not touched him that much so his father lost interest in him because he was not able to led the life he imagined he would have. However his mother supported him and gave him her love and constant support. Due to his sickness and mental problems in 1874 his mother withdrew him from the school in Paris where they moved two years ago and he had a private lessons back in Albi.

But the painting of horses (Figure 2), which he liked, was his gate to the artistic field. He had always a great imagination so it was easier for him to transfer his thoughts to a “paper”. In 1882 his mother sent him to the studio of René Princetau the animal painter form Bordeaux. “Later, when Princetau saw that he could not teach his pupil adequately, he introduced him to Léon Bonnat, a successful but boring painter.” according to Visani (1970, p. 6) so Henry had moved to a new atelier closer to the Montmarter hill. But three months later Bonnat’s studio closed so he moved with other pupils to the studio of Fernand Cormond on the slopes of Montmartre. Henry was happier in his studio that in Bonnat’s because he had here more freedom in new styles and with a group of friends they had more entertainment and did some pranks. “In art, Lautrec found a reason for living, as he did in his circle of lively and fun-loving friends, who were always eager to respond to the stimuli of novelty and eccentricity.” according to Visani (1970, pp. 6-7) When Henri left Cormon’s studio in 1884 he got a place to live in at the house of Grenier.

Figure 2 - Two horses and an ordonnance 1880

Figure 2 - Two horses and an ordonnance 1880

The major turn point in Lautrec’s career was that he met Aristide Bruant. The composer and performer of songs. “Lautrec was fascinated by his anarchism, his sudden bursts of ingenuous affection, and his show of culture coloured by verbal vulgarity.” according to Visani (1970, p. 8 ) Henri has created some of his best posters for Bruant. (Figure 3) Because he knew Bruant he got a connection to a bohemian underworld for whom he was doing his posters.

Figure 3 - Ambassadeurs: Aristide bruant - 1892

Figure 3 - Ambassadeurs: Aristide bruant - 1892

Montmartre was always a place where artist lived for centuries and also a small district of Paris where normal Parisians people did not wanted to go, because of the strange smell of farms and the dark streets were the place were robbers and murders settled their accounts with enemies. Over time when all the cabarets were built Montmartre changed so did the atmosphere in that place. And Lautrec found there the right place for his daily inspiration. And over time it showed up that he was the most influenced by red head cabaret dancers and their lives.

Henri was not always happy with his life but when he got into the brothels he liked very much he was in his world. He was the heart of Montmartre for so many people. Due to the need for alcohol he had always a lot of friends around him and of course mostly women. Sometimes he went to live with them into the brothel for few weeks straight. They took him as a part of their “family”. And Henry was obsessed with them and he loved the shapes of women’s body. From this time when eh was living with all the prostitutes one of the most famous paintings was created by him. Its called “At Rue des Moulins, 1894” (Figure 4). And that is right that he lived with them because it seems to me as a great way how to know them and give extra emotion to their faces which he could studied over time. Henry liked to express the subjects feelings by showing the face expression on the paint.

Figure 4 - At Rue des Moulins, 1894

Figure 4 - At Rue des Moulins, 1894

I like the thing how Lautrec was bringing drawing skills into the painting and this novelty turned into a new style the post-impressionism. He made quick sketches at the place where he saw same interesting subject a after that he worked on the final piece at his studio slowly.

From my point of view Henri was a true founder of the commercial design and the whole way, which he gone through to the final point of creating a posters is a inspiration for me. I do not think I would have the same objects of inspiration as he had. But his life showed me how you can be easily influenced by the objects which you are surrounded with.

Lautrec looks to me as a brave person that is not bothered by his physical problems. (Maybe he was hiding it with the alcohol). But he was always happy and surrounded with his friends. He expressed his emotions in the painting of women he loved or somehow amazed him. He was painting the same subject repetitively after few years so you could see their change of emotions and how they felt in that period of time when they were painted. He liked to position the model into a emotional unusual pose to give a deeper meaning to the person and try to give them a deeper meaning.

If you look at his poster work it is amazing that he found the main subject and he played and developed the meaning to create it more abstract. As the poster for Simpson chains (Figure 5). Where he shows that one cyclist with Simpson chain is faster than five guys on a bike with a regular chain. I like this kind of hidden meaning in his interpretation of the product.

Figure 5 - Poster for La Chaine Simpson - 1894

Figure 5 - Poster for La Chaine Simpson - 1894

Another example is the poster for Moulin Rouge (Figure 6) which made him literary famous over night. Because there were 3000 posters all over Paris and citizens stole most of the and they hang there at their homes. The poster lives in its own place, in the cabaret. The main subject the dancer is detailed because that is why people are going there. The silhouettes around are know as the wealthy people who have to money to spend in there. The yellow beams of the gas light is creating the atmosphere. So the cabaret dancer is there as the connection between these elements. In this poster Henry told that the high class is enjoying the nights in the cabarets in Moulin Rouge so that means that is a good valuable entertainment also for a others.

Figure 6 - Poster - Moulin rouge : La Goulue 1891

Figure 6 - Poster - Moulin rouge : La Goulue 1891

He was very limited by the printing abilities of that time so he could not use any photographs he had to draw mostly silhouettes even thou he was able to paint the famous persons of that time such as Oscar Wilde who was his good friend and Henry saved him from a trial by drawing his character more often so the public would liked him more.  He often went to London for his commercial work and England was the only country he liked to travel to. “During the 1890s, Lautrec considerably enlarged his subject-matter. He was interested for instance in medicine; he once said that if he had not been a painter he would have become a doctor or surgeon.” According to Sutton (1966, p.19) He went to see a operation and also he sketched a notes of the process of the operation.

Lautrec’s last years were painful. After two years of very intense sickness. His passion for fine cocktails and mysterious Absinth ended his life on 9 September at 2.15 a.m. His body is buried at Verdelais.


Sutton, D. (1966) Lautrec. London: Spring Arts Boks.

Visani, M. C. (1970) Toulouse-Lautrec – The life and work of the artist illustrated with 80 colour plates. London: Thames and Hudson.


Figure 1
Portrait of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec [Online]. Available at: http://www.henri-de-toulouse-lautrec.info/images/portret.jpg (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Figure 2
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec : Two horses and an ordonnance [Online]. Available at: http://www.henri-de-toulouse-lautrec.info/detail.php?id=056 (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Figure 3
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec : Ambassadeurs : Aristide bruant [Online]. Available at: http://www.henri-de-toulouse-lautrec.info/detail.php?id=A4 (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Figure 4
The Waitting Room In The Rue Of The Moulins [Online]. Available at: http://www.toulouse-lautrec-foundation.org/The-Waitting-Room-In-The-Rue-Of-The-Moulins.html (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Figure 5
Poster for “La Châine Simpson” | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [Online]. Available at: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/poster-for-la-ch-ine-simpson–168462 (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Figure 6
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec : Moulin rouge : La Goulue [Online]. Available at: http://www.henri-de-toulouse-lautrec.info/detail.php?id=A1 (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).


Negoescu, D. (2006) Toulouse Lautrec & Carmen Guedin: Context. Available at: http://blogs.princeton.edu/wri152-3/f05/negoescu/context_1.html [Online] (Accessed: 2 November, 2010).

Toulouse-Lautrec: The Full Story. (2006) Channel 4 [UK], 16 December 2006.


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