Born on November 24, 1864 in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa is considered by many to be one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. The son of aristocrats, he suffered from a number of congenital conditions that were attributed to the inbreeding traditions of past generations. His parents were first cousins.
Between the ages of 13 and 14, Toulouse-Lautrec broke his right and left thigh bones, both of which did not heal properly. As a result, his legs ceased to grow and while his torso reached adult proportions, his height was stunted at 5 feet 1 inch.
Unable to participate in regular physical activities, Toulouse-Lautrec turned to art. In 1882, he studied with the academic painter Leon Bonnat and then entered the atelier of Fernand Cormon in 1883. He was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris known for its bohemian lifestyle and as the meeting place of artists, writers, and philosophers. He was also fascinated by the singers, dancers, prostitutes and other patrons of Parisian dance halls and cabarets. Toulouse-Lautrec made connections with Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh and by 1885, he had abandoned academic art, choosing instead to depict scenes of Montmartre life.
Toulouse-Lautrec painted “quickly and frequently in thinned oil paint on unprimed cardboard, using its neutral tone as a design element and conveying action and atmosphere in a few economical strokes. Japanese prints inspired his oblique angles of vision, near-abstract shapes, and calligraphic lines. In later years graphic works took precedence; his paintings were often studies for lithographs.” In 1889, Toulouse-Lautrec exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, emerging as a leading post-impressionist painter. In 1891, he began producing paintings and poster designs connected with the famous nightclub, Moulin Rouge.
An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium in 1899. He died on September 9, 1901 from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometers from the Chateau of Malrome, where he died.
Though his career was short, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, as well as ceramic and stained glass works.
For a complete biography, visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Foundation website.
Sources: Art Institute of Chicago, J. Paul Getty Museum, Toulouse Lautrec Foundation, Wikipedia