Comte Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was a French painter whose work from the late 19th century is seen as being representative of this time period. Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the best-known painters of Post-Impressionist period, along with Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. A 2005 auction at Christie's auction house sold his early painting of a young laundress for $22.4 million and set a new record for the artist for a price at auction. Toulouse-Lautrec was born into the aristocracy, but he broke both his legs early in his childhood.  Due to an unknown medical condition, he stood at only 5" (152 cm) as an adult. In addition to his alcoholism, he developed an affinity for brothels and prostitutes that directed the subject matter for many of his works.

Early life

Toulouse-Lautrec was born in the Hôtel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. He was born into a wealthy family of aristocrats. He is descended from the powerful Counts of Toulouse and Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfa. His younger brother was born in 1867 called Auguste, but died the following year. Both sons enjoyed the titres de courtoisie of Comte. If Henri had outlived his father, he would have been Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec. When Toulouse-Lautrec's parents separated, a nanny eventually took care of him. Toulouse-Lautrec went to Paris at the age of eight, where he started to draw sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that his talents lay in drawing and painting since he was good at it. His father's friend, René Princeteau, sometimes visited to give informal lessons. Toulouse-Lautrec's early works were of horses, a specialty of Princeteau, and he revisited the subject of equestrianism in his "Circus Paintings". Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Albi in 1875 because his mother had concerns about his health. At Amélie-les-Bains, he took thermal baths. His mother consulted doctors hoping to find a way to improve his growth and development.

Disability and health problems

Toulouse-Lautrec's parents were first cousins (they were sisters' grandchildren), and his congenital health conditions were attributed to a family history of inbreeding. Toulouse-Lautrec fractured both his right and left femurs at a young age. Modern physicians believe this disorder is an unknown genetic condition that, like pycnodysostosis, or achondroplasia, or osteogenesis imperfecta can cause bones to heal improperly. In some cases, symptoms of rickets can be made worse by a condition known as praecox virilism.
Afterward, his legs stopped growing. He was 1.52 m or 5 ft 0 in as an adult. He developed an adult-sized torso using child-sized legs. Additionally, he is reported to have had hypertrophied genitals. Many activities enjoyed by boys his age were beyond Toulouse-Lautrec. He instead immersed himself in art and became a Post-Impressionist painter and art nouveau illustrator. During the mid-1890s, Toulouse-Lautrec contributed several illustrations to the magazine Le Rire. After failing the college entrance exam once, he passed the exam on his second try and completed his studies there.

Life in Paris

During a sojourn in Nice, France, the quality of his pictures impressed Princeteau, who persuaded Toulouse-Lautrec's parents to let him return to Paris and study under the portrait painter Léon Bonnat. The year he moved to Paris was 1882. Toulouse-Lautrec's mother had high ambitions and used their family's influence to get him into a studio that catered to the upper crust of Parisian society. He was drawn to Montmartre (the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers), and studying with Bonnat placed him there (in the heart of Montmartre).
After Bonnat took a new job, Toulouse-Lautrec moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882. He studied for a further five years and met Émile Bernard and Van Gogh. Cormon's approach was more laid-back than Bonnat's. He allowed his students to explore Paris to find what they would paint. During 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 a prostitute in Montmartre, a woman rumored to be Marie-Charlet.

Early career

In 1885, Lautrec began exhibiting his work in the cabaret of Aristide Bruant. In 1887, after his studies were finished, he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym "Tréclau," the verlan of the family name "Lautrec." He exhibited with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin later on. In the year 1885, Toulouse Lautrec met Suzanne Valadon. He did several portraits of her, and he gave her support for pursuing artistic ambitions.

Rise to recognition

Maus invited him to exhibit at the "Vingt" (the 'Twenties') exhibition in Belgium in February 1888. Theo van Gogh bought Poudre de Riz (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery. Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the Salon des Indépendants regularly from 1889 until 1894. He made multiple landscapes of Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant en plein air paintings in the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where he also created "The Laundress" (1888).
In 1890 at the XX exhibition in Brussels, he challenged to a duel the artist Henri de Groux who criticized van Gogh's works. Signac vowed to continue the fight for Van Gogh’s honor if Lautrec was killed. In the end, De Groux apologized for the slight and left the group, thus avoiding a duel.

Interactions with women

In addition to his growing alcoholism, Toulouse-Lautrec also frequented prostitutes. He was fascinated by their lifestyle and the lifestyle of the "urban underclass" and painted them to capture the essence of their way of life. The real reasons for his behavior were moral ones: he was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance.
The girls in the brothels inspired Toulouse-Lautrec. Some of his work portrays them. He would frequently visit one located in Rue d'Amboise, where he had a favorite called Mireille. He created about a hundred drawings and fifty paintings inspired by fifty women. He created a series of two women kissing in 1892 and 1893 called Le Lit, and painted Salón de la Rue des Moulins from memory in his studio in 1894.
He said, "These models are all dolls, but these real women are alive. I wouldn't pay them the hundred sous to sit for me, and I certainly don't think they'd be worth it. They reclined on the sofas largely due to fatigue rather than need. They appeared uncaring; they acted like royalty.
He found girls close to his size, saying, "I have found girls of my own size! Nowhere else do I feel so much at home".

The Moulin Rouge

Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters for the Moulin Rouge cabaret in 1889. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a way of supporting himself that was independent of family. Competent artists were jealous of the work, but he ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings as the star of the show. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert, who created the French can-can; the dancer Louise Weber, better known as La Goulue.

Life in London

His family spoke English often, and though he was not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke it well enough. He was commissioned by the J. & E. Bella company to make posters advertising their paper confetti (plaster confetti was banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and La Chaîne Simpson bicycles.
When he was in London, he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. Wilde, imprisoned in Britain, soon became a vocal supporter of himself, and Lautrec's portrait of Oscar Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde's trial.


Toulouse-Lautrec was mocked for being short and looking odd, which may have contributed to his drinking. His tastes expanded from beer and wine to include liquor, namely absinthe. The "Earthquake Cocktail" (Tremblement de Terre) is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: half absinthe and half cognac in a wine goblet.

Cooking skills

Toulouse-Lautrec was a cook who enjoyed cooking. Toulouse-Lautrec built up a collection of favorite recipes some original, some adapted which were posthumously published by his friend and dealer Maurice Joyant as L'Art de la Cuisine. The book was republished in English translation in 1966 as The Art of Cuisine: Alain Senderens and the Inspiration of Spain, a tribute to his inventive (and wide-ranging) cooking.

The Death of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec's alcoholism led to frequent drunken binges and ultimately a collapse from exhaustion. His father had him admitted to a mental institution named Folie Saint-James, where he stayed for three months. While he was committed to doing it, he drew 39 circus portraits. Following his release from jail, he returned to the Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly, owing to alcoholism and syphilis. He died at the age of 69 on December 9, 1828 in Paris, France.
In 1901 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died in his mother's estate. He is interred in the Cimetière de Verdelais, next to where he grew up. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's last words were said to be "Le vieux con!" ("The old fool!") directed at his own father, but another version has been suggested. After the death of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, his mother continued promoting his artwork with the help of her art dealer. Toulouse-Lautrec's mother supported the idea of creating a museum to show her son's works (Albi is her birthplace.) The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, France owns the most extensive collection of his works.

Oil painting reproduction Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec