Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

(1864-1901) French painter and poster designer

Our interest in Toulouse-Lautrec does not rely on the scandalous romance of Montmatre’s brothels and cabarets, or tales of dissolution. Rather, we are fixed on the visual carpentry of HTL’s print work and poster designs: specifically, his formal investment in color, mass, edge, and line. These are the abstract properties of printed color that influenced the modernist project, which split the object from its representation via the radical flatness of ink on paper. The communicative imperative–delivered through commercial arrangement, given form through separately drawn separations on lithographic limestones, one each per inked color, and activated by audience response–propelled that discovery. The modern significance of spot color printing is difficult to overstate.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue. Poster advertisement. 1891. As noted in the biographical sketch, HTL’s first poster. LIthograph. The sweet spot between description and abstraction has yet to fully develop. The yellow “barbell” thing at left does not see to participate in the spatial array. An oddity.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine, poster advertisement for dance performance, 1895.

Below find a biographical entry, courtesy of the Guggenheim.

[HTL appeared] “On November 24, 1864, in Albi in the French Pyrenees. Highly eccentric, artistic, and protective of their only surviving son, his aristocratic parents educated him at home. At age ten, Toulouse-Lautrec was hospitalized for severe bone pain, beginning a lifelong cycle of physical complications and extended periods of convalescence. By age 16, he was permanently crippled by a genetic disorder that also stunted his growth. Obsessive drawing and painting served as an escape from his physical and emotional challenges. In 1882, he went to Paris to study art, first with Léon Bonnat, then Fernand Cormon: in latter’s studio, he soon became acquainted with Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Academically trained, he quickly abandoned the conventions of perspective for avant-garde experimentation and was influenced by Eastern aesthetics via the trend of Japonisme, evident in the snapshot angles and large areas of flat color in works such as Rider on a White Horse at the Cirque Fernando (Au Cirque Fernando, écuyère sur un cheval blanc, 1889).

In 1884, Toulouse-Lautrec permanently settled in Montmartre, a low-rent haven for artists, bohemians, and the performers, patrons, and prostitutes frequenting the neighborhood’s nightclubs, including the Moulin de la Galette and Chat Noir. Despite his visible disabilities, he led a highly social existence, associating with a range of people, from the poor and marginalized to the wealthy and celebrated…Although the artist lived life publicly and exuberantly, his images of drinkers, nightclub dancers, and idling prostitutes exhibit a gamut of emotions, from desire to detachment and ennui, creating a revealing picture of life on the margins of fin-de-siècle Paris. His disdain for bourgeois values extended to his artistic style. He abhorred the varnished surfaces of salon-style painting and deliberately created rough, sketchy canvases with an unfinished appearance. Several of his posters, including Loïe Fuller au Folies Bergère (1897), were so graphically bold as to veer into abstraction.

Toulouse-Lautrec was praised by critics Claude-Roger Marx and Gustave Geffroy…His first poster, Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (1891), was visible all over Paris, and he was commissioned for portraits, advertisements, and book illustrations. After years of alcoholism and living with syphilis, he was briefly admitted to a sanatorium in 1899. He suffered a stroke in 1901, while on holiday in the south of France, and died soon after, on September 9, at his family’s estate Château Malromé, Saint-André-du-Bois.

More extended Guggenheim bio here

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Reine de Joie par Victor Joze, chez tous les libraries (Queen of Joy, at all bookstores) poster advertisement for novel. 1892. LIthograph. An essay in edge and line. There are no black contour lines, with the exception of the “queen's” eyes and eyebrows: all else is black shape. The portly banker has pea-green hear and his head defined by a countour line of the same color; his companion’s face is delineated in red line and red lips. The value composition is a little out of whack, as the orange middle value should probably sit more evenly between the light yellow and green (both light values) and the flat black (dark as can be). At any rate, a wonderfully sophisticated semi-crudity. Colored blobs; not an illusion.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant dan son cabaret. Poster advertisement. 1892. LIthograph.

The Victoria and Albert (London) entry for Ambassadeurs reads as following: ”This poster advertises an event with the singer Aristide Bruant at the Ambassadeurs nightclub in Paris, 1892. Bruant, a satirical singer and a friend of the French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), insisted that Lautrec design this poster. The director of the Ambassadeurs disliked its dramatic and uncompromising style, but since Bruant said he would not perform unless the poster remained, it was used both outside the theatre and inside to decorate the proscenium arch.” Link here.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, poster advertisement, 1893. Lithograph.

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