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.)