Salon de la Rue des Moulins, 1894; At the Café La Mie, 1891
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, perhaps the greatest graphic artist of his time, is most widely remembered for his bold, colorful posters of Parisian entertainers. The son of an eccentric aristocrat, he spent his childhood at the family chateau in south-west France, where he suffered the falls that broke both is legs and stunted his growth. By the time he moved to Paris at the age of 17, he was ill-proportioned and dwarfish.
Despite his upper-class background, Lautrec felt most at home in the nightclubs, dance halls and brothels of Paris, where he spent his time drinking and drawing his friends and associates: his art centers entirely around the narrow life he led. He reached his peak both as a painter and poster artist in the early 1890s, before alcoholism took its toll. He died a broken, pathetic figure at the age of 36.
La Toilette (The Toilet), 1896; Alfred la Guigne, 1894
The Cult of the English
During the 1890s, France went through a phase of excessive enthusiasm for all things English. Tearooms opened in the most fashionable areas of Paris, English styles in dress were imitated by dandies and society ladies, and English music-hall performers were among the star attractions at the Montmartre nightclubs. Lautrec had several English friends and an undisguised admiration for English manners and customs. The Englishman’s sense of correctness and ‘good form’ is reflected in Lautrec’s own stoicism about his physical condition – he never complained about his handicap and referred to it only in jest.
Gallery of Works
Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the nightlife of Paris in the late 1800s known as the ‘naughty nineties’ in his works. During the first part of the decade, he was at his at the top of his game as a both as poster artist and painter, however, towards the end, his unparalleled technical ability declined along with his ailing health.
Portrait de Suzanne Valadon, 1888
At the Circus Fernando shows an early example of Lautrec’s strong graphic style and forceful caricature, while the Aristide Bruant at the Ambassadeurs shows the satirical cabaret singer Aristide Bruant scowling threateningly, while the silhouetted shadow of a man leaning in the doorway in the background evokes a sleazy nightclub atmosphere. At the Moulin Rouge is Lautrec’s most famous work, which shows a group of Lautrec’s friends at the bar of the famous Parisian club. Seated around the table are the elderly music critic Edouard Dujardin, a dancer known as La Macarona, photographer Paul Sescau, and champagne salesman and debauchee Maurice Guibert, who sits next to an unidentified redhead. Lautrec himself appears in the background of the painting, dwarfed by his taller cousin, while La Goulue and Môme Fromage stand in front of the mirror.