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Timeline: pg. 1 Early life: pg. 2 Parisian inf luence: pg. 3 Style: pg. 4 Subjects: pg. 7 Inf luences: pg. 8 Themes: pg. 9 Later life: pg. 10 Poster: Moulin Rouge: pg. 5 Poster: Confetti: pg. 6 Poster: Divan Japonais: pg. 11


1864: born November 24 1882: apprenticed with Fernand Cormon

1887: exhibited in Paris with Vincent van Gogh

1891: creates first poster, Moulin Rouge

1896: creates portfolio Elles 1901: death


Henri de Toulouse Lautrec was born November 24, 1864 in France. His childhood was plagued with health problems thought to be caused by inbreeding as his parents were first cousins. He suffered broken bones and growth issues, ultimately resulting in a permanent stature of only 4’ 8”. Often confined to bed either at home or in health ‘spas’, he took to his sketchbook where he honed a gift for capturing movement and figures.

Dancer Adjusting her Costume 1889 charcoal on paper


Salon de la Rue de las Moulins 1894 oil paint on cardboard

Lautrec was drawn to all things Paris, especially the nightlife. As his parents never approved of his passion and career, he threw himself wholly into it, deeply investigating the nature of the Parisian art world. He reveled in contradicting the norm and traditional values, focusing instead on those on the margins of society. He frequented brothels and nightclubs, taking to depicting dancers, actors, singers, and prostitutes. However, he emulated them not as disdainful or mere sideshow attractions or even in a sexual light; instead, they appeared in his work as they were in life, portrayed in the theatrical and fun-loving atmospheres they created.


Despite drawing upon numerous influences, from specific artists to the zeitgeist of the Art Nouveau era as a whole, Lautrec maintained a unique personal style. Distinctly graphic, many of his pieces were composed of bright, flat colors and outlined shapes arranged on a single plane. Such features drew largely from Japanese ukiyo-e prints, as did his habit of cropping subjects so they appear to continue off the page. By way of materials, Lautrec tended toward pencil sketches and paint early on in his career. Though skilled in the latter, he often left his drawings in graphite or charcoal only with the intent of maintaining simplicity. After the whirlwind popularity of his first poster for the Moulin Rouge, however, Lautrec turned his attention more toward lithography and printmaking and the creation of commercial posters.

Jane Avril 1899 colored lithograph


1891 lithograph: The piece that started his graphic design career, Moulin Rouge is Lautrec’s most well-known piece. The famous dancer La Goulue, or the Glutton, dances on stage with her partner Valentin le DÊsossÊ, or Valentin the double jointed, a grey silhouette in the foreground. An ad for the new nightclub featuring sideshows, dancers, and the like, it serves as a window into the exuberant atmosphere, promising the same to potential patrons.


1894 lithograph: In a departure from his usual clients, this advertisement was commissioned by an English firm to sell paper confetti for celebrations. In an effort to depict the lively, carefree nature of the product, the girl in the center is not grounded, but merely floats in the page.


Lautrec is nothing if not straightforward. A hallmark of his artwork is his elimination of nonessential elements, stripping a composition down to the key elements. Often one of these key elements is a woman, as seen in any number of his commercial works, and usually singers or nightclub performers of some kind. La Goulue, or the Glutton, appears in several of Lautrec’s pieces, as do Yvette Guilbert and Aristide Bruant. These figures frequently appear in front of a theatrical nightlife scene, showcasing the vibrancy of the clubs they were meant to promote.

Portfolio: Elles 1896 lithographs

A little later in his career, Lautrec began to frequent cafĂŠs and brothels, depicting those who lived on the margins of society. Unlike other artists of the time, however, he depicted prostitutes and the like neither nude nor suggestively. He sought to illustrate them in their off-duty moments, living their lives outside of their work as any other human being. Such a progressive concept was seen as radical at the time.


top left: Dancers, Pink and Green; Edgar Degas 1850 oil on canvas top right: Les Tritons de la Seine, Honoré Daumier 1864 lithograph bottom left: Le Carnaval à Paris, Paul Gavarni 1843 pencil on paper bottom right: Ame-Rain, Torii Kotondo 1929 woodblock

Several artists spanning time and place had a significant impact on Lautrec’s work. Paul Gavarni, a graphic artist from the early 19th century, often gravitated toward portraiture and figures in “unadorned [depictions] of people” 1. Honoré Daumier, another 19th century artist, also leaned toward figures like Gavarni and Lautrec, but he often generated political narrative while Lautrec captured neutral snapshots of life. Edward Degas’s commonplace subjects also inspired his focus on subjects not commonly depicted in fine art such as dancers and prostitutes. Finally, the Japanese influence over the Art Nouveau period as a whole had an especially great effect on Lautrec, who incorporated the flat colors and cropped subjects into his signature style.


Aside from the explicit message of his advertisements, Lautrec’s pieces had few themes to them. He rarely if ever suggested moral or political opinions through art. The most that can be said is that “he is concerned not to make us feel that we are in the presence of the scene itself, but that we are the witnesses of an act of transformation�3.

Ambassadeurs 1892 Lithograph

The Customer and the Anemic Cashier 1891 oil painting


As his delve into nightlife progressed, so did Lautrec’s involvement in its less savory aspects. By 1899 his alcoholism and mental health spiraled to the point where he was admitted to a private hospital. A relapse in this condition in 1901 ultimately lead to his untimely death at 36 years old. By then he had produced 737 canvas paintings, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, and 5,084 drawings.

The Hangover 1888 oil paint


1892 lithograph: Another ad for a nightclub, the Divan Japonais, Jane Avril, a famous cancan dancer, dominates the design in a bold black dress and vibrant red hair. Sitting next to her is art critic Édouard Dujardin, and they both gaze on as the singer Yvette Guilbert performs on stage. Composed entirely of flat outlined shapes, this is another of Lautrec’s more famous posters.


1. Castleman, Riva, and Wolfgang Wittrock. Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec: Images of the 1890s. Museum of Modern Art, 1985. 2. Huisman, Philippe, et al. Toulouse-Lautrec. Doubleday, 1973. 3. Lucie-Smith, Edward. Toulouse-Lautrec. Phaidon, 1983. 4. “MoMA.” MoMA, www.moma.org/.

Henri Toulouse Lautrec  
Henri Toulouse Lautrec  
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