Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) Part I

Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa was born at the Hôtel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the firstborn child of Alphonse Charles Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838–1913) and his wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran (1841–1930). The last part of his name means he was a member of an aristocratic family and descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfa, a village and commune of the Tarn department of southern France, close to the cities of Castres and Toulouse. His younger brother was born in 1867, but died the following year. If he had outlived his father, Henri would have succeeded to the family title of Comte.

After the death of his brother, Henri’s parents separated and a nanny eventually took care of him. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that Henri’s talents lay in drawing and painting. A friend of his father, René Princeteau, visited sometimes to give informal lessons. Some of Henri’s early paintings are of horses, a speciality of Princeteau, and a subject Lautrec revisited in his “Circus Paintings”.

In 1875, Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Albi because his mother had concerns about his health. He took thermal baths at Amélie-les-Bains and his mother consulted doctors in the hope of finding a way to improve her son’s growth and development. Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents, the Comte and Comtesse, were first cousins (his grandmothers were sisters), and he suffered from congenital health conditions sometimes attributed to a family history of inbreeding.

At age 13, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his right femur. At age 14, he fractured his left. The breaks did not heal properly. Afterwards, his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was extremely short. He developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs. Additionally, he is reported to have had hypertrophied genitals. Physically unable to participate in many activities enjoyed by males his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer, and, through his works, recorded many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed his second attempt and completed his studies.

During a stay in Nice, France, his progress in painting and drawing impressed Princeteau, who persuaded Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents to let him return to Paris and study under the acclaimed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother had high ambitions and, with the aim of her son becoming a fashionable and respected painter, used their family’s influence to get him into Bonnat’s studio. He was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed Toulouse-Lautrec in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years.

After Bonnat took a new job, Toulouse-Lautrec moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat’s, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to 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 rumoured to be Marie-Charlet.

With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym “Tréclau”, the verlan of the family name ‘Lautrec’. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Van Gogh’s brother Theo bought Poudre de Riz (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the Independent Artists’ Salon on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. Tucked deep into Montmartre in the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-headed model who appears in The Laundress (1888).

To be continued in part II




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