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Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Detail La Toilette

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1864-1901, French painter and lithographer; b. Albi. Son of a wealthy nobleman, Lautrec fell and broke both legs when he was a child and his growth was permanently stunted. Showing an early gift for drawing, he studied with Bonnat and Cormon and set up a studio of his own when he was 21. As a youth he was attracted by sporting subjects and admired and was influenced by the work of Degas. His own work was, above all, graphic in nature, the paint never obscuring the strong, original draftsmanship. He detailed the music halls, circuses, brothels, and the cabaret life of Paris with a remarkable objectivity born, perhaps, of his own isolation. His garish and artificial colors, the orange hair and electric green light of his striking posters, caught the atmosphere of the life they advertised.

Lautrec's technical innovations in color lithography created a greater freedom and a new immediacy in poster design. His posters of the dancers and personalities at the Moulin Rouge cabaret are world renowned and have inspired countless imitations. After a life of enormous productivity and debauchery, Lautrec suffered a mental and physical collapse and died at the age of 37. His life has inspired numerous biographies of varying accuracy. Although exhibitions of his work were not well received in his lifetime, he is now represented in the major museums of France and the United States. Many of his sketches and some paintings are in the Musée Lautrec of his native Albi. His painting At the Moulin de la Galette (1892) is in the Art Institute, Chicago; the lithograph Seated Female Clown (1896) is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Used with permission.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press