de Toulouse-Lautrec was born into an aristocratic family in the south of
France in 1864. His father, Count Alphonse, was a notorious eccentric
known for all kinds of unpredictable behavior: from washing his socks in
the river (unheard of for an aristocrat!) to galloping off to a hunt
wearing outlandish costumes, to simply disappearing for long stretches
of time. The young Henri never became very close to him.
Unknown at the time, Henri suffered from
a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly.
Fatefully, at age twelve, he broke his left leg. And at age fourteen, he
broke his right leg. Both legs ceased to grow, while the rest of his
body continued to grow normally.
In his late teens, Lautrec was honored
to become a student of the artist Fernand Cormon, whose studio was
located on that hill above the city, Montmartre.
When he graduated from Cormon's studio,
Lautrec gave himself up fully to the bohemian life, spending much of his
time drinking and carousing -- and constantly sketching -- in cabarets,
racetracks, and brothels.
His stunted physique earned him laughs
and scorn, and kept him from experiencing many of the physical pleasures
offered in Montmartre, a sorrow that he drowned in alcohol. At first it
was beer and wine. Then brandy, whiskey, and the infamous absinthe found
their ways into his life.
Art and alcohol were his only
mistresses, and they were mistresses to which he devoted all of his time
and energy. He was doing one or both almost every day of his life until
Adapting the fad for Japanese style (asymmetric composition, flat
areas of color) that then pervaded French art to the also burgeoning art
of the picture poster, he created thousands of artworks both to
memorialize his friends and to advertise their venues. Among those whose
images are now a part of art history are the Moulin Rouge dancers Louise
Weber and Jane Avril, and the combative singer/entrepreneur Aristide