Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa was a 19th century French painter. He was born on November 24, 1864 into a noble family that had fallen into relative poverty. His parents were Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec of the Toulouse-Lautrec family. He came from a long line of inbreeding, and his parents were first cousins as well. This is thought to have attributed to his physical deformity. He was affected by a number of physical ailments. At the age of 13, he fractured his left thigh bone, and the next year, his right. These fractures never healed properly, very likely due to some genetic disorder such as pycnodysostosis, osteopetrosis, achondroplasia or rickets. As a result, he only grew to a height of 5 feet 1 inch, with a fully developed torso but shortened legs. Because of this, he had to walk with the aid of a cane. He also suffered from other disorders which led to extremely painful toothaches and facial deformities.
Because of his physical limitations, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became interested in art. He started sketching at a very young age and perfected his techniques during long bouts of illness and recovery. He first studied at the Lycée Fontanes in Paris in the 1870s, and then studied with René Princetau and John Lewis Brown. In the 1880s he studied with Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon as well. He moved to the Montmartre area of Paris, a Bohemian area, which was a hub of artists, writers, philosophers and musicians. At a famous garden there known as the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, Toulouse-Lautrec created a series of open air paintings. He used a redhead, named Carmen Gaudin, as his model for these paintings, who also appeared in some of his other paintings.
Toulouse-Lautrec spent a lot of time at brothels, living with the prostitutes there for many weeks at a time. He watched them as they worked and during their leisure time, and depicted honest portrayals in his paintings. Many of the sex trade workers had homosexual relationships, and they felt very comfortable with having him around. One of his favorite models was a red headed woman named Rosa la Rouge, who is believed to have been his mistress and reportedly gave him syphilis. He also gave painting lessons to another prostitute named Suzanne Valadon, who used to model for him and was one of his mistresses as well. He worked alongside composers and created paintings and posters in collaboration with them. He also painted stage dancers such as Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril and Loïe Fuller.
Other than creating paintings on posters, Toulouse-Lautrec also painted posters and woodblock printmaking. Some of his well-known works include “The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge” and “At the Moulin Rouge”. He became known for his honest and realistic portrayals of working women, not just in their professional, but also in their personal lives. Although he was well-known and successful, he often went into long bouts of depression and was a heavy drinker for most of his life. He was disowned by his family because of his decision to be an artist. He also had a nervous breakdown because of his mother’s poor health. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died on September 9, 1901 at the age of 36. During his lifetime, he produced more than 5000 drawings, 700 paintings and numerous prints and posters. A biography of his life, entitled “Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life” was published in 1994.