Monday 8 August 2011

Toulouse-Lautrec - part 1

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa or simply Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901) was a French painter, printmaker and illustrator, whose immersion in the colourful and theatrical life of fin de siècle Paris yielded an œuvre of exciting and provocative images of the modern, and sometimes decadent life of those times. Toulouse-Lautrec is known along with Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. In a 2005 auction at Christie's auction house a new record was set when "La blanchisseuse", an early painting of a young laundress, sold for $22.4 million.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a direct descendant of an aristocratic family, born in 1864 at Albi, France. His wild and colourful father lived in moderate luxury, hunting with falcons and collecting exotic weapons. Henri began to draw at an early age and found the arts an escape from his loving but over-protective family.

In 1878 Toulouse-Lautrec suffered a fall and broke one femur. A year later he fell again and broke the other one – his legs didn’t heal properly. His torso developed normally, but his legs stopped growing and were permanently deformed.

1889 La Blanchisseuse 
oil on canvas
In 1882, encouraged by his first teachers – the animal painters René Princeteau and John Lewis Brown – Toulouse-Lautrec decided to devote himself to painting, and that year he left for Paris. Enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts, he entered the studio of Fernand Cormon. In 1884 he settled in Montmartre in north Paris, where he stayed from then on, except for short visits to Spain, where he admired the works of El Greco and Diego Velázquez.

In England he visited celebrated writer Oscar Wilde and painter James McNeill Whistler. At one point Toulouse-Lautrec lived near painter Edgar Degas (1834–1917), whom he valued above all other contemporary artists and by whom he was influenced. From 1887 his studio was on the rue Caulaincourt next to the Goupil printshop, where he could see examples of the Japanese prints of which he was so fond.

By habit Toulouse-Lautrec stayed out most of the night. He frequented many entertainment spots in Montmartre, especially the Moulin Rouge. He moved freely among the dancers, the prostitutes, the artists, and the intellectuals of Montmartre. From 1890 on his tall, lean cousin, Dr. Tapié de Celeyran, accompanied him, and the two, depicted in "At the Moulin Rouge" (1892), made a colourful pair. Despite his deformity, Toulouse-Lautrec was extremely social and readily made friends.

1892 At the Moulin Rouge 
oil on canvas

Among his favorite subjects were the cabaret dancers Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, and La Goulue and her partner, Valentin le Désossé, the contortionist. Through the seriousness of his intention, Toulouse-Lautrec depicted his subjects in a style bordering on, but rising above, caricature.

Unusual types performing in a grand show attracted Toulouse-Lautrec. In his painting "In the Circus Fernando: The Ringmaster" (1888) the nearly grotesque, strangely cruel figure of the ringmaster is the center around which the horse and bareback rider must revolve. From 1892 to 1894 Toulouse-Lautrec produced a series of interiors of brothels, where he actually lived for a while and became the companion of the women.

1888 At the Cirque Fernando, The Ringmaster 
oil on canvas
As with his paintings of cabarets, he caught the feel of the brothels and made no attempt to glamorize them. In the "Salon in the Rue des Moulins" (1894) the prostitutes are shown as ugly and bored beneath their makeup; the madam sits quietly in their midst. He neither sensationalised nor drew a moral lesson but presented a certain interpretation of this side of society for what it was – no more and no less.

Eventually alcoholism and his loose lifestyle caught up with Toulouse-Lautrec and he suffered a breakdown in 1899. His mother had him committed to an asylum at Neuilly, France. He recovered and set to work again, but not for very long. He died in 1901 at the family estate at Malromé, France.

This is part 1 of a 4-part post on the works of Toulouse-Lautrec:

1882 A Labourer at Celeyran

1882-3 Self-portrait 
oil on cardboard

1883 Comtesse Adèle-Zoé de Toulouse-Lautrec, the Artist's Mother 
oil on canvas

1886 Drawing Room at the Château de Malromé 
oil on canvas

1886 Jeanne Wenz

1889 Au Bal du Moulin de la Galette 
oil on canvas

1889-90 Training of the New Girls by Valentin "the Boneless" (Moulin-Rouge) 
oil on canvas

1889-90 Justine Dieuhl 
oil on board

1890 Désiré Dihau (Reading a Newspaper in the Garden) 
oil on cardboard

1890 The Policeman's Daughter 
oil on cardboard

1891 Louis Pascal 
oil on board

1891 Portrait of Honorine Platzer

1892 A Corner of the Moulin de la Galette

1892 At the Moulin Rouge, The Beginning of the Quadrille
 gouache on cardboard

1892 At the Moulin Rouge, Two Women Waltzing 
oil on cardboard

1892 Jane Avril Dancing 
oil on cardboard

1892 La Goulue Arriving at the Moulin Rouge with Two Women
 oil on  cardboard

1892 Le Baiser 
oil on cardboard

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