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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi (southern France) on November 24, 1864, as a descendant of one of the most prominent French aristocratic families.   

France 1958. Toulouse-Lautrec. Self-Portrait.

He broke both legs as an adolescent, and because of a congenital calcium deficiency, they remained stunted for the rest of his life. He never became taller than 152 cm, and had to use a cane for the rest of his life. 

His parents were horrified to see their only son excluded from numerous aspects of aristocratic life, such as a military career, hunts and ball-room events, not to mention the vanishing possibility of an appropriate marriage and continuation of the family. 

As a single child with a great demand for personal care, his mother (countess Adèle-Zoë-Marie-Marqette Tapié de Céleyran) came very close to him, and encouraged his early artistic talents together with his paternal uncle, count Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

His artistic talents were expressed already around the age of 11 when he, in admiration of his uncle, began painting in oil. His first paintings show hunting- and horse-scenes inspired by his family's aristocratic life style. A further inspiration might have been the French romanticist painter Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), who was beloved by the grand public for his historical paintings and dynamic animal depictions in vivid colours. 

In 1881, at the age of 17, Toulouse-Lautrec painted his father, count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec, depicting him in an oriental costume on horseback as a falconer. Given, that the painting is done by a young art student, it shows an extremely clever handling of the technically difficult portrait-format (as opposed to the landscape-format).

The intense colours, the light brush strokes, and the beautiful perception of movement depict vividly the horse and the rider.  

It is evident from the painting that Toulouse-Lautrec is still an art student, trying out different techniques and motifs, and in this context it is important to emphasize that Toulouse-Lautrec never received an academic art  education, but was solely taught and tutored in an atelier. 

The art academies of the time favoured anatomic correctness in all depictions, but Toulouse-Lautrec showed an obvious fascination for movement in natural surroundings, which might have been based on his own physical incapacities. He favoured clearly an artistic interpretation of reality.

  • Count Toulouse-Lautrec as Falconeer, 1881.  Oil on wood. 23,4 x 14 cm. Belongs to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi (France).  


Toulouse-Lautrec. Count Toulouse-Lautrec as Falconeer.

Mali 1967,. Toulouse-Lautrec. The horse "Gazelle".

From this period exists also this lovely drawing: "Head of the horse Gazelle", a study made in 1881, measuring 48 x 59 cm. The drawing belongs to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi (France). 

The artist has used the same light brush strokes as on the above painting of his father, and moreover never "finished" the figure, which gives an excellent "optical" impression of a race horse in rapid movement. 

  • Mali 1967.  "Gazelle". The stamp is shown considerably enlarged for a better view. 

Encouraged by his tutor, René Princeteau, Toulouse-Lautrec left for Paris in March 1882, and was accepted as a student in the Parisian artist Léon Bonnat's atelier. Settling in Paris broadened immediately the young' artists perspective dramatically, and he became acquainted with the latest artistic trends of the time, and exhibited also his works in cafés and cabarets. Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated by Parisian night life, and began soon to work "on location". He became a true bohemian who, far from his family's aristocratic life style and control, could pursue his own interests in the Montmartre district. 

Excessive abuse of alcohol and frequent visits to brothels became the norm for him. 

Yet he perceived himself as an observer rather than a participant of the demimonde milieu which he approached without any prejudice or signs of a socio-critical engagement. 

His "observing nature" is evident in this painting, showing two women in a bar, courting a man.   

  • Hungary 1969. "These Ladies!". Oil on cardboard, 1885. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. 

Hungary 1969. Toulouse-Lautrec. "These Ladies".

During this period he made numerous "on location studies" at night, which he during day time elaborated into true compositions. The result are paintings which, in spite of their characteristic spontaneity, are meticulously elaborated. Here are some samples.

Aden Kathiri State of Seiyun 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. "Au Moulin Rouge, La Danse". Aden Kathiri State of Seiyun 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. "La Goulue". Aden Kathiri State of Seiyun 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. Aristide Bruant.

Ireland 1980. Europa Stamp. Toulouse-Lautrec. Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

Toulouse-Lautrec's vitality, happiness and wits attracted a large group of artists and intellectuals, including the Irish author Oscar Wilde.  Also the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and the French singer Yvette Guilbert were among his friends, and he recorded his impressions of these celebrities with striking originality and power, such as this painting of Oscar Wilde. 

His alcoholic dissipation, however, eventually brought on a paralytic stroke, and after his initial artistic achievements he suffered a mental and physical crisis which committed him to a mental hospital in Neuilly, where he stayed until late May 1899.  

  • Ireland 1980.  Europa stamp.  Portrait of Oscar Wilde, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec in 1895.  Oil on cardboard.  Belongs to the Lester Collection in Vienna (Austria). 

Being discharged from the hospital he tried continuously, in spite of the limitations set by his health, to develop his artistic work. From this last sad period of his short life there are a few paintings issued on stamps, of which the most famous is "Miss Dolly", an English woman on a bar in Le Havre.  The graceful personality of this lady is beautifully rendered in the powerful colours, the lady's gentle face, and the meticulous shaping of the background to set the general ambiance. This technique had become the artist's early "brand", similarly shown on the above Hungarian stamp. 
Mali 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. "Outing in a Gig". France 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. "The English Woman from 'Star' in Le Havre". Kathiri State of Seiyun 1967. Toulouse-Lautrec. Gabriel Tapie de Céleyran (The artist's cousin).

Toulouse-Lautrec. The artist's signature.

Toulouse-Lautrec's signature, inspired by that of Albrecht Dürer, appears on all his paintings, and is reproduced in the upper selvedge of a set of stamps from Grenada, issued 1976. It is a contraction of his initials, HTL- 
Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. The Dancer and Clown Cha-U-Kao in Moulin Rouge.

The Dancer and Clown
Cha-U-Kao in Moulin Rouge

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. Beginning of the Quadrille.

Beginning of 
The Quadrille

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. Woman with Red Hair.

Woman with
Red Hair

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. The Salon in "La Maison", rue des Moulins.

The Salon in "La Maison", rue des Moulins

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. The Washer Man.

The Washer Man

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. Marcelle Lender dancing "Bolero".

Marcelle Lender 
dancing "Bolero"

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. Woman with Black Boa.

Woman with Black Boa

Grenada 1976. Toulouse-Lautrec. Monsieur Boileau in the Café.

Monsieur Boileau 
in the Café

Over the winter 1900/01 his general health deteriorated fast, and he knew instinctively that the end was near, so he started clearing up his life and affairs with regard to moving back to his mother's estate in southern France. On 15th August 1901 Toulouse-Lautrec had another stroke, which paralyzed the left part of his body, and on 20th August that same year he left definitively for his mother's estate, Malromé. Toulouse-Lautrec died on 9th September 1901 in the presence of his parents and his cousin Gabriel at Chateau de Malromé. 

Toulouse-Lautrec and his life has been immortalized in the world famous movie "Moulin Rouge" in 2001, the centenary of his death, starring Nicole Kidman as Satine, and John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec. 


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