Welcome to the first of our new monthly series, ‘Artist in Profile’. At the beginning of each month we will be posting an article profiling a great artist. To kick us off we have chosen Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec. There are two reasons for this:
- Su, who runs deepspaceworks, is a direct descendant of Toulouse-Lautrec (he is her Great (X4) Uncle)
- Toulouse-Lautrec practiced Stone Lithography and we are exhibiting stone lithographic works in the IMPRESS 13 Stone Litho Exhibition taking place at deepspacegallery this month (March)
So without further ado let us introduce you to our first ‘Artist in Profile’, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec…
Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, more commonly known as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, was an artist who loosely fell into the Post- Impressionist and Art Nouveau schools. On the cusp of Scorpio and Sagittarius, he was born on 24th November 1864 in Albi, France to an aristocratic family. His father was Count Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec who married his first cousin Adele Tapié de Céleyran, Henri’s mother. Henri was the last child in a long line of aristocrats and had he not died before his father, would have inherited the title of Count of Toulouse.
Henri was protected as he had delicate health so was unable to enjoy many of the pursuits of his aristocratic background. He broke both legs in a fall in his early teens and they failed to heal properly which caused his muscles to waste. Combined with a genetic calcium deficiency, and his crippled legs poor Henri’s growth was stunted. He immersed himself in art and the artist Princeteau well known for his formal depictions of equestrian and military subjects recognised his efforts. Encouraged by this patronage, family influence gained him a place in the atelier of Léon Bonnat in Paris.
Henri was absorbed into the bohemian lifestyle of Paris and soon became an aficionado of the nightlife and the alcohol that accompanied such ventures. He was a regular at the cabaret and cafés particularly the Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill). His carousing did not distill his passion for art and he spent much of the time sketching and painting scenes from the demi monde. His completed works were on canvas or made into lithographs. He took to drinking and his Friday night parties were legendary. His favourite tipples were cocktails and he invented his own called an Earthquake or Tremblement de Terre served in a wine glass containing half cognac and half absinthe.
Henri visited London and became a friend of Oscar Wilde who was facing his trial at the time. Henri was a vociferous supporter of Wilde and painted his portrait. Despite being from a family of Anglophiles, Henri did not speak good English. During his time in London, he also completed some posters including “Confetti” and “La Chaine Simpson”.
Eventually a descent into full-blown alcoholism caused Henri’s health to suffer further, delirium tremens combined with syphilis caused his family to take action, and he was institutionalised for a period.
Although Henri became famous as an artist quite quickly in comparison to other artists of the time, there was a huge surge in demand for Henri’s work after his death at the very young age of 36 years when he had a fatal stroke.
Henri’s style was unique, full of powerful colour play and brush strokes of delicacy. His use of movement in his work was in contrast to the existing approach where correct anatomy was the norm in contemporary pieces. He is reputed to be the original “Art Poster” artist and some of his most famous works are in this poster style. His ability to capture people in the nightlife environment, retaining the colour and excitement but with the glamour stripped away was extraordinary and he would depict subjects dispassionately but sympathetically. Some of Henri’s most famous works are the Moulin Rouge-La Goulue (the famous art poster), May Belfort, Portrait of Gabrielle, and At the Moulin Rouge: Two Women Waltzing, At the Circus Fernando, and In Bed. Over 1000 of his works are on display at the Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi.
At the Moulin Rouge
The most famous of Henri’s paintings offers a great deal to the viewer. There are elements of impressionism and the scene depicted at this famous cabaret is teeming with high spirits and energy, good friendships and new acquaintanceships. Henri himself is seen in the middle of the painting with his friend. The eye is drawn to the stage action yet there is a visual draw to the line of top hats to the turquoise-faced lady and up to two women on the dance floor with their back to the artist. The use of colour is unusual and the boldness and strength adds to the form and balance of the picture. The sounds and sights of the flashy Parisian nightlife come to life in all its robust glory through the eyes of a sharp raconteur.
Moulin Rouge-La Goulue (Stone Lithograph)
Once more with his favourite cabaret as the subject, Henri’s first and famous lithograph (stone drawing) used four different stones using this technique where the artist draws the original image onto a hard surface such as limestone and different coloured inks are used to create and layer colour. Henri used yellow, red, black and blue as his base colours and built up layers as can be seen by the greenish and purplish hues in the foreground of this lithograph.
The technique of spatter (crachis) is used to create an almost airbrushed effect. The size of the finished lithograph was very large by poster standards of the day and the original stood 2 metres tall and more than 1metre wide. An example of how the lithographic process works can be seen here.
Despite his demons and ill health, Henri lived to taste the success of a lauded popular artist in Paris. Some consolation perhaps for the obstacles he had overcome.