I’ve been enchanted and intrigued by Toulouse-Lautrec’s work ever since I’ve first set my eyes on his painting Salon Rue des Moulins. His usage of vivid colours and theatrical approach to subjects created elegant, exciting, intriguing and provocative images depicting the decadency of late nineteenth century Parisian artistic community Montmarte.
Henri, already drawn to Montmarte, settled there when he started studying painting under the acclaimed portrait painter Leon Bonnat. Studying in Montmarte put Henri in the heart of this artistic community famous for its bohemian lifestyle and haunt of artists, painters, philosophers and writers. Henri rarely left Montmarte for the next twenty year and he met other interesting artists there as well, forming a lifelong friendship with painters Emile Bernard and Van Gogh. In 1882. he moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon, after his previous patron Bonnat took a new job. Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and Henri spoke English well enough to be able to travel to London. There he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde was imprisoned, Henri supported him and painted a portrait of him.
Throughout his career, which spanned less than twenty year, Lautrec created more than 700 canvases and numerous watercolours, prints and posters, drawings and an unknown number of lost works. Though Henri was a Post-Impressionistic painter, his debt to Impressionists, particularly more figurative ones such as Manet and Degas, is evident in his paintings. Parallels between Degas’ theatre scenes and Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is evident in Henri’s work. Still, Post-Impressionism developed from the Impressionism, and the roots of this late nineteenth centruy French avant-garde is in the painting The Luncheon on the grass by Manet.
His work is particularly interesting for its detailed depiction of people in their working environment; courtesans, bars, theatres, dances and plein-air scenes; night life of Montmarte striped of its glamour and presented in a realistic but exciting way. His paintings seem more like drawings with visible brush strokes and clear contour lines; the latter being the reason of his detailed depiction of people on the paintings (at that time, individuals were recognised on the paintings because of the contour lines.) Many of his work can be described as drawings in coloured paint. I love Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s work because it’s like a window to late nineteenth century lives of the artists from Montmarte bohemian community. Lautrec’s paintings are realistic while dreamy, elegant and sentimental at the same time. His paintings capture the vibrant and decadent spirit of society during the fin de siècle and stand as a statement to the century that had started with Napoleonic wars, evolved from Romanticism with Victor Hugo, Realism with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Baudelaire and Rimbaud’s Symbolism and Impressionism to Lautrec as a final dot on the canvas of the nineteenth century in France.
1895. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge
1894. The Medical Inspection at the Rue des Moulins Brothel
1889. La Toilette
1893-95. Ces dames au réfectoire
However, Henri was an alcoholic for most of his adult life. He drowned his sorrows, concerns and humiliation in absinth, as did many artists of his time. In 1893. alcohol began to take its toll, and, in addition, rumours circulated that he had contracted syphilis. Henri died in September 1901, less than two months away from his thirty seventh birthday. A painter of the Parisian night life, famous illustrator, inventor in usage of perspectives, a magician with lines and colours, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the man who painted the French la Belle Epoque. If David Bailey is called the man who shot the 1970s, than I say that Toulouse-Lautrec is the man who painted the 1890s.