Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec came from an aristocratic
background, having been born the son of an earl. Even as a schoolboy
he showed a talent for drawing. By 14 he had suffered two horse
back riding accidents, combined with a serious bone disease which
eventually left him crippled for life. His body continued to grow
but not his legs, he would remain only five feet tall and suffer
pain and embarrassment his entire life.
At the age of 18 Lautrec moved to Montmartre in Paris to study
art seriously. He worked with artists Louis
Anquentin, Emile Bernard, Degas, Van Gogh and others. He became
a frequenter of the the cafes, cabarets and brothels of the neighborhood,
drawing from them inspirations for his artistic themes.
As the artist's stature grew, several magazines
wanted to publish his work, including Le
Rire. His subjects, as well as street life, included some
of the most famous music-hall performers, with whom he became
friends, such as Yvette Guilbert,
La Goulue Jane
Avril, May Milton, May
Belfort and several others.
He became absorbed in the night life of the Montmartre until he
himself was an indispensable part of it.
"His (poster) masterpieces define the limits of poster style:
where Cheret epitomizes a
completely external, impersonal viewpoint, Lautrec is the embodiment
of internal, personal vision with a point to make, not, to be
sure, a moral judgment, but rather an amused, wry observation
on the passing scene.
Virtually all posterists, then and since, have had to make their
stance somewhere between these two poles. True, some may have
tried a satirical bite more vicious than Toulouse-Lautrec's, or
a neutrality even more profound than Cheret's, but none could
surpass the sheer mastery of the pioneers. The best proof is that
a century later, their work still sparkles with all its force,
inventiveness and beauty, and each in his way is more popular
than they ever were in their own lifetimes.
However, the years of night life and excessive intake of absinthe
began to take their toll, and his physical condition became very
fragile. He had to be taken through the Paris World's Fair of
1900 in a wheel-chair, and the following year he died in his country
His legacy in poster art continues to astound us.
Despite the smallness of his output (Cheret
created almost 1000 posters) as compared to the rest of his artistic
oeuvre, Toulouse-Lautrec proved himself a true genius of the poster,
and his position in the poster pantheon has never been seriously
challenged" (Wine Spectator)