Category Archives: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.” — Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alone, 1896; Oil on board, 31 x 40 cm; Musée D'Orsay, Paris

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on Nov. 24, 1864, in Albi, France. He was an aristocrat, the son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse and last in line of a family that dated back a thousand years. Henri’s father was rich, handsome, and eccentric. His mother was overly devoted to her only living child. The Comte and Comtesse themselves were first cousins and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of inbreeding.

Unknown at the time, Henri suffered from a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly. Fatefully, at age twelve, he broke his left leg. And at age fourteen, he broke his right leg. His legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 1.52 m (5 ft) tall, having developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs, which were 0.70 m (27.5 in) long. He is also reported to have had hypertrophied genitals. Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art.

In his late teens, Lautrec was honored to become a student of the artist Fernand Cormon, whose studio was located on the hill above Paris, Montmartre. When he graduated from Cormon’s studio, Lautrec gave himself up fully to the bohemian life, spending much of his time drinking and carousing — and constantly sketching — in cabarets, racetracks, and brothels.

Lautrec was often mocked for his short stature and physical appearance, and this led him to drown his sorrows in alcohol. At first this was just beer and wine, but his tastes quickly expanded. 1893 saw Lautrec’s alcoholism begin to take its toll, and as those around him began to realize the seriousness of his condition there were rumors of a syphilis infection. Finally, in 1899, his mother and a group of concerned friends had him briefly institutionalized. He had even gone to the length of having a cane that he could hide alcohol in so he could have a drink on him at all times. 

An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. As he lay dying, his mother and a few friends sat at his side. When his father, the rarely-seen Count Alphonse showed up, everyone was astonished — except Henri. He said, “Good Papa. I knew you wouldn’t miss the kill.”  Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (“The old fool!”). This was his goodbye to his father. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malromé at the age of 36.

Throughout his career, which spanned less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolours, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works. Toulouse-Lautrec is known along with Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period.

(Sources: All over.)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

“we, however, are not prisoners.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At Montrouge (Rosa La Rouge). 1886-87. Oil on canvas. 72.3 x 49 cm. Barnes Foundation, Lincoln University, Merion, PA, USA.

Fear of the Inexplicable

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

— Rainer Maria Rilke