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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
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Chateau de Malrome near Bordeaux
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicted Parisian society enjoying its pleasures and vices in the bars, brothels, cabarets and cafés of Montmartre at the end of the 19th century. Immensely talented in several media, his art was influenced by Japanese prints and in turn profoundly influenced Western art at the beginning of the 20th century. A prodigious worker, Toulouse-Lautrec created a large oeuvre during his short career: 737 paintings, 275 watercolors, 368 posters, lithographs and other prints and more than 5,000 drawings are listed in the catalogues raisonné. Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa’s aristocratic parents were first cousins, and from them he inherited a congenital disorder giving him weak bones. He fractured each leg as a teenager, neither of which healed properly. As a result his growth was stunted and he could not walk properly. Toulouse-Lautrec received artistic instruction from his father and his uncle, both talented amateur artists. In 1881 he began studying art in Paris with René Princeteau (1844-1914) and the next year with Léon Bonnat (1833-1932). After Bonnat closed his atelier in September, 1882, Toulouse-Lautrec went with many of Bonnat’s students to the studio of Fernand Cormon (1854-1924), with whom he studied until 1887. Cormon’s other students at the time included Louis Anquetin (1861-1932), Émile Bernard (1868-1941) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). While a student in 1882 he had his first exposure to Japanese ukiyo-e (“floating world”) prints, which were very popular in Paris at the time. He viewed Japanese prints again in the 1883 exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit. The flattened perspectives, clear and clean draftsmanship, sharp diagonals and large planes of color characteristic to Japanese prints began appearing in his work during the 1880s, culminating in his posters of the 1890s. Toulouse-Lautrec lived in or near the disreputable district of Montmartre and frequented its dubious establishments from the mid-1880s. His first published drawing, Gin-Cocktail (Dortu D.2.964), appeared under a pseudonym in the Courrier français earlier in 1886. That year his friend Aristide Bruant (1851-1925), the entertainer and songwriter, put paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec on permanent display in Bruant’s cabaret Le Mirliton, published sheet-music illustrated by him and an illustration by him on the cover of Bruant’s journal Le Mirliton. Also that year, art dealer Theo van Gogh (1857-1891), Vincent’s brother, organized an exhibition of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work at Broussard, Valadon et Cie. The next year, Toulouse-Lautrec and his friends Anquetin, Bernard and Van Gogh exhibited paintings at a restaurant in Montmartre. From then until the end of the 1890s, he showed his works frequently in multiple Paris exhibitions. Toulouse-Lautrec’s career in lithography began in 1891 when he was introduced to the lithographic printer Edward Ancourt by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). Toulouse-Lautrec won a commission to create a poster advertising the Moulin Rouge, a Montmartre cabaret. Featuring one of the cabaret’s dancers, Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (Wittrock P.1) revolutionized poster design. His thirty-one posters are some of his greatest achievements. In addition to posters, Toulouse-Lautrec created 325 lithographs. Among the best known are three color lithographs Toulouse-Lautrec contributed to André Marty’s (1857-?) L’estampe originale, a set of ninety-five prints published by Marty in installments from 1893 through 1895. One was an eight-color lithograph for the cover of the first issue depicting the dancer Jane Avril (1868-1943) inspecting a print (Wittrock 3). Henri Gabriel Ibels (1867-1936) and Toulouse-Lautrec each contributed eleven lithographs to illustrate the album Le Café-concert with text by Georges Montorgueil (1857-1933), published in 1893 by Marty (Wittrock 18-28). Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographs were featured in several exhibitions during the 1890s. Alcoholism and generally-declining health led him to enter a sanitarium in Neuilly-sur-Seine in February or March, 1899. During the time he spent there he continued to draw and paint; working from memory he created thirty-nine remarkable circus drawings (Dortu D.4522-4560). He was released from the sanitarium in May, 1899 and later that year returned to Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec’s health deteriorated during 1900 and 1901. He suffered a stroke on August 15 while visiting a resort in Taussat in southern France and then went to his mother’s Château de Malromé in the Gironde where he died on September 9, 1901. (TNB 2/2011) Selected bibliography: Frèches-Thory, Claire, et al. Toulouse-Lautrec. Exhibition catalog. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991. Thompson, Richard, et al. Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre. Exhibition catalog. Washington: National Gallery of Art; Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2004.