Toulouse-Lautrec’s Short-lived Career

Day 201 of Colourisation Project – November 24

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

One of the greatest and influential painters of the Post-Impressionist period was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who despite a short-lived career lasting just over a decade, left an indelible mark on the art world.

Toulouse Lautrec

Photographer: P Sescau – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

He was one of France’s best art nouveau illustrators and lithographers and was recognised as the father of the modern large-scale poster. His best known posters were advertisements for Montmartre cabaret performers, such as the singer May Belfort, the female clown Cha-U-Kao, and Loïe Fuller of the Folies-Bergère.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s art serves as a record of late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Known for his louche lifestyle, he spent most of his time capturing the bohemian nightlife of cafes, cabarets and dancehalls of the Montmartre district of Paris. Every night the Moulin Rouge dance hall, which displayed his paintings and sketches in their foyer, reserved a table for Toulouse-Lautrec.

Born into an aristocratic family, Toulouse-Lautrec’s parents were first cousins. Generations of inbreeding dealt a cruel blow to his family and most likely was attributable to his permanently stunted growth and a number of other congenital health conditions. Toulouse-Lautrec’s reached a height 1.54 m (5 ft 1 in). He had an adult-sized torso, with child-sized legs and was also reported to have had hypertrophied genitals.

His condition was never identified during his lifetime however from evidence available today, it is very likely that he suffered from brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta), a genetic disorder that prevents bones and connective tissues from developing properly.

An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec’s disability made him somewhat of an outcast. He frequently sought solace in the arms of other social outcasts; the prostitutes and madams in brothels, where he was warmly accepted. He even lived in brothels for weeks at a time, depicting the lives of the women working there on canvas. A favourite model was a red-haired prostitute called Rosa la Rouge from whom he allegedly contracted syphilis.

Several well known works resulting from these ‘internships’ include Rue de Moulins (1894), Prostitutes Around a Dinner Table (1894), Two Friends (1894-95).

He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis in 1901, three months before his 37th birthday.

After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works.

His legacy is his prodigious output. In his short lifetime, Toulouse-Lautrec produced 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, not to mention an unknown number of lost works.


“I paint things as they are. I don’t comment.”   –  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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