Van Gogh •
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
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Count Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi in one of the castles of his ancestors, the Counts of Toulouse. He was a delicate child, but led a
normal life until he was fourteen. Then, in minor accidents, he broke first one thigh bone and then the other. The bones did not heal properly due to a rare bone disease and when he could finally walk again, he had a normal torso with abnormally stunted legs. Since he had shown talent in drawing as a very young child, his parents encouraged him to take lessons with various teachers in Paris. When he was twenty, his father provided a financial arrangement which enabled Lautrec to set up his own studio on the rue Caulain court in Montmartre. He frequented Impressionist circles and particularly admired Degas. Between 1887 and 1897 Lautrec produced the best and greatest part of his work. He painted, sketched, made lithographs and posters, and illustrated books. His production was enormous, for he worked feverishly, as if he knew that his days were numbered. His illness began to affect his brain in 1898 and his family sent him to a private asylum for treatment. While shut away he worked on a series of circus drawings, which were instrumental in securing his release, for the doctors recognized that they were the work of a sane man. For a short while his health
improved somewhat by care and rest, enough for him to return to work in his studio. In the spring of 1901, however, he became partially paralyzed and was taken to one of his family's estates at Malrome, where he died a few months later. Lautrec's crippling illness forced him to become an observer rather than a participant in life. After his early quite academic studies with Bonnot and Cormon and a brief Impressionist period, he chose to observe the life of the crowd in cabarets, music halls, theaters, and circuses. A brilliant draughtsman, with an acid yet delicate line, Lautrec excelled in the art of lithography. He constantly invented new methods, using color in large flat areas enclosed sharply and ironically. His witty applications of the Art Nouveau arabesque, attracted the public and influenced such artists as Vuillard, Bonnard, Vallotton, and Steinlen. He also applied his powers of observation and his ironic wit to his rapidly composed and executed drawings and paintings. In these color is less important than line, and the line is used incisively to create a gallery of portraits that immortalize an epoch with such comprehension that it has become a recognizable facet of French social history.