Biography of French Painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Part 2

About the famous French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, history and biography of the artist.




A passionate man whom fate had dealt a cruel blow, Toulouse-Lautrec gained acceptance among the prostitutes by treating them as equal human beings rather than as objects to be used and discarded. In 1892 he began living in a Montmartre bordello, where he found not only sexual gratification but something far more precious--a real tenderness he had never known before from women. The women of the bordello, completely at ease in his presence and captivated by his charm, went about their daily routines uninhibitedly. Detesting anything and everything which effected a false front, Toulouse-Lautrec maintained that prostitutes were the best possible models, because they never consciously posed. Although some of his portraits were considered pornographic--especially those that showed women in lesbian embraces--they were always sharp and alive, never dulled by sentimentality or moralizing.

Toulouse-Lautrec's circle included some of the most famous artists of his day: Van Gogh, Pissarro, Gauguin, Manet, and Degas. Gradually, his own paintings began to gain popularity. Although condemned for their "orgies of clashing colors," they were praised for their "coarse vitality." Always eager for recognition, Toulouse-Lautrec was delighted when he was given a commission to paint a poster for the Moulin Rouge. Poster art, with its few, deft lines extended to convey a wealth of emotion, proved a natural medium for him. By age 28 he had produced more than 300 paintings, posters, and lithographs.

Along with success came personal misery. Although capricious and somewhat tyrannical, Toulouse-Lautrec had always been a lively, engaging man who would entertain his friends for hours on end. But as he neared his 30th birthday, his behavior became increasingly erratic and belligerent. His drinking, once confined largely to the evenings, was the first order of business each morning. Combined with a nearly maniacal expenditure of energy and a neglected case of syphilis, alcoholism at last overwhelmed Toulouse-Lautrec. By the time he was 31, his artistic productivity had declined greatly, and in February, 1899, he was institutionalized, suffering from severe hallucinations. Terrified of being locked away in an asylum forever, he sought to convince his keepers of his sanity by executing from memory a series of pastel drawings dealing with circus themes. In May he was released, and for six months he made a determined effort to regain his physical and emotional health. But his spirit was broken and his art was sapped of its vitality. In despair, he began to drink again. Returning to his family's chateau, he continued to paint and keep up the pretense of nonchalant wit, even after suffering partial paralysis and becoming almost completely deaf. At last his body could endure no more. With his mother kneeling by his side, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died on Sept. 9, 1901, two months before his 37th birthday.

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