Summary of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
In addition to being the artist who designed the Moulin Rouge's legendary posters, Toulouse-Lautrec was an aristocrat, dwarf, and party animal who invented a cocktail called the Earthquake (half absinthe, half cognac). His favorite pursuits were dressing up (geisha girl and clown get-ups were among his more memorable party outfits) and frequenting Parisian brothels, where he was a V.I.P. Like insects trapped in amber, his paintings, drawings and of course his famous posters preserve the swirl of energy, mix of classes and cultures, and the highs and lows of urban life in 19th-century Paris.
- Toulouse-Lautrec was the first artist to elevate advertising to the status of a fine art. This is an extraordinary shift in the history of art, obliterating the boundaries between high (painting, drawing, sculpture) and low (posters, logos and other forms of visual culture) art. Acknowledging that some of his greatest masterpieces were posters for nightclubs does not in any way diminish their value. On the contrary, it set the gold standard for great commercial artists from Alphonse Mucha to Andy Warhol.
- In contrast to nearly all of the other artists in his circle, Toulouse-Lautrec had no trouble making a living. This is chiefly because Parisian business owners realized they could make money from his unique (modern) vision. In contrast to artists who worked for private collectors, galleries or the government, he worked for the entertainment business, where selling drinks and tickets was the bottom line. Jane Avril, one of his closest friends and one of Montmartre's most beloved cabaret dancers, later wrote: "It is more than certain that I owe him the fame that I enjoyed dating from his first poster of me."
- Thanks to his childhood tutor - also an art therapist - who encouraged him to shift his energy from riding to drawing (a safer pursuit for a child struggling with illness), Toulouse-Lautrec's early passion for physical activity was channeled directly into his art. The breathless excitement and athleticism of his sinuous line is like muscle memory - physical energy transposed into art.
- By sheer force of will, Toulouse-Lautrec turned his disability into a superpower. At a time when the only acceptable designation for persons with disabilities was freak, Toulouse-Lautrec used his unique appearance to his advantage. It allowed him to disappear into a crowd or the corners of a bedroom, seeing others without being seen.
- Toulouse-Lautrec's remarkable observations of people on the margins of society almost certainly stems from his status as an outsider. The crooners, dancers, acrobats, and prostitutes with whom he socialized were his adopted family. He identified with them, and there is every indication that he saw them as equals.
- More than simply a brilliant advertiser and artist, Toulouse-Lautrec was an important informal visual historian of urban life in Belle Époque Paris. The film "Moulin Rouge" and other period pieces based on the Belle Époque, are heavily informed by his posters, prints, and paintings.
Biography of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec may be best remembered as the master of Art Nouveau posters, but this curious individual stood at just 5’ high, was a party animal, a brother regular, an occasional cross-dresser, and a good friend to marginalized people of all sorts - from “circus freaks” to homosexuals to prostitutes.