About us
Artists Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Photo

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

French Painter

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Born: 24 November, 1864 - Albi, France

Died: 9 September, 1901 - Paris, France

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Timeline


"Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly that you feel you could die of it."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"Of course one should not drink much, but often."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive."
Toulouse Lautrec on women in the brothel
"I have tried to do what is true and not ideal."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"I paint things as they are. I don't comment. I record."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"When a figure painter executes a landscape he treats it as if it were a face; Degas' landscapes are unparalleled because they are visionary landscapes."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"Only the human figure exists; landscape is, and should be, no more than an accessory; the painter exclusively of landscape is nothing but a bore."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
"In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new; they see their value and their justification in this newness. They are deceiving themselves."
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

"Bonnat tells me, 'Your painting isn't bad, it is chic, but even so it isn't bad, but your drawing is absolutely atrocious.' So I must gather my courage and start once again..."

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Signature


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.

Key Ideas

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 Epoque Paris. The film "Moulin Rouge" and other period pieces based on the Belle Epoque, are heavily informed by his posters, prints, and paintings.

Most Important Art

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Famous Art

Self Portrait in Front of a Mirror (1882)

This is one of few self-portraits Toulouse-Lautrec painted, as he was incredibly self-conscious about his appearance, and the only one in which the artist is the sole focus. In it, he uses peinture a l'essence (oil paint, thinned with turpentine), applied directly onto cardboard to create a loose, sketchy effect. He would continue to use this technique throughout his career, adapting it to his sensibilities as a mature artist. Here the artist is both literally and figuratively emerging: the looseness of the brushwork makes it evident that he has studied Impressionism, but there is a darkness here, perhaps even a hint of the sinister, and a depth to the composition that departs from the buoyancy of the Impressionist palette and mood.
Read More ...

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Artworks in Focus:


Childhood and Education

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa (the long name reflects his high-class social status) was born into an aristocratic family in the South of France. Raised in an atmosphere of privilege, he loved animals, and owned and rode horses. By age 8, it was clear that he suffered from a congenital illness that weakened his bones. After two serious riding accidents his legs stopped growing. At his full height, Toulouse-Lautrec was 5 feet tall, with the upper body of a man and the legs of a child. He walked with a cane and in considerable pain for the rest of his life.

Early Period

Unable to participate in the equestrian pursuits and other pleasures afforded other aristocrats of his age and station, Toulouse-Lautrec took art lessons with a local instructor, Rene Princeteau, who assisted him in channeling his passion for horses into drawing and painting. His first drawings were of horses, and the dynamism of line in Two Riders on Horseback (1879) shows his gift for observing and transposing action onto paper, cardboard or canvas. It was around that time that he discovered the Impressionists. Degas shared his love of horses and was his most important early influence, shown in Toulouse-Lautrec's elegant, gestural line, capture of movement, and immediate and early gravitation toward racy urban subjects.

Shunning the more prestigious traditional Ecole des Beaux-Arts (which still taught students how to paint in the manner of the Italian Renaissance), upon his arrival in Paris in 1882 Toulouse-Lautrec sought (and could afford) individualized instruction in the small studios of Leon Bonnat and Bernard Corman. These teachers fostered unorthodox training and experimental approaches. Cormon's students included the renegades Vincent van Gogh and Emile Bernard, who became Toulouse-Lautrec's friends. Unchaperoned for the first time, the teenage Toulouse-Lautrec went wild in Paris, and its colorful night life became the center of his world. Despite ongoing struggles with his health, he was - by all accounts - the life of the party. Exceedingly charming, gracious, witty, and sarcastic, he became a fixture in Montmartre's cabarets, bars, circuses and brothels, where he knew the prostitutes by name (they, in turn, affectionately called him "the Coffeepot" - an affectionate reference to the diminutive artist's generous proportions). Learning from a circle of friends and mentors in Paris that worked hard and played hard, he developed his unforgettable shorthand approach to observing from life. As he sat in the theater or circus, he sketched the performers. When in the brothel, he sketched the prostitutes. Like the Impressionists, he preferred to work on site, in front of the motif, beginning and completing his compositions on the spot. Unlike the Impressionists, (with the notable exception of Degas) who gravitated toward scenes of upper-middle-class leisure, Toulouse-Lautrec chose urban night life, the more disreputable the better.

Toulouse Lautrec Biography

His diminutive stature allowed him a degree of invisibility, so that he could observe others closely. Prostitutes and performers, accustomed to being judged, were not afraid of him. His portrait of the prostitute known as La Casque d'Or in The Streetwalker (1890-91) captures the unprecedented frankness of his approach, and reflects the degree to which his models trusted him.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Biography Continues

Perhaps because he had always felt like an outsider, Toulouse-Lautrec developed a circle of friends on the margins of society to whom he was exceedingly generous; they looked out for him, too. Dancers, crooners, and circus performers that lived and worked in the bohemian Montmartre neighborhood of Paris became his friends.

Mature Period

Toulouse Lautrec Photo

Commercial success came early to the talented young artist, who was literally an overnight sensation. Three thousand copies of Toulouse-Lautrec's very first poster for the Moulin Rouge were hung around the city one December evening and crowds came pouring into the cabaret, stimulated by this memorable image. As a token of appreciation for the artist's work (and to ensure that he would be available to do future work for them), the cabaret reserved seating for him, and displayed his paintings on their walls.

Toulouse-Lautrec's arrival in Paris coincided with an explosion of activity in the entertainment district of Montmartre and a leap in the sophistication of the advertising business. Stimulated by an influx of people moving from the countryside to Paris (working-class people who found employment in the city's circuses, bars and cafés, and the moneyed classes with resources), business owners and entertainers vied with one another for the business of customers who decided on the evening's entertainment based on the word on the street. Posters were intended to generate buzz for a fickle and distractible clientele who chose to attend an event based on whether or not they liked the poster. Toulouse-Lautrec had everything it took to generate interest in these venues: colorful, eye-catching, dynamic forms that captured the essential characteristics of the venue and its performers. Future venues hung his advertising posters by the thousands, and they became collector's items during his lifetime. The anarchist critic Felix Fenéon published an article with explicit instructions on how to take one of Toulouse-Lautrec's posters down before the glue had a chance to dry.

Later Period

Once business owners knew how good he was, Toulouse-Lautrec, who wasn't exactly hard up for money to begin with, had an unlimited supply of work. He essentially had the ideal job: he could pick and choose what performances he wanted to go to, usually admission-free. He continued generating posters for the Moulin Rouge, and was a VIP at virtually any other performance in Paris that struck his fancy: circus acts, the Jardin de Paris and other nightclubs. He was also a regular at the city's brothels where he availed himself of the services of the prostitutes, who treated their customer with a level of kindness and humanity to which he was unaccustomed. He reciprocated with financial generosity and a series, (Elles) that affords a level of human insight into the business of prostitution that is unavailable in any other study from the period. He moved into these establishments for short periods of time, raising eyebrows among those in the know when the artist gave out his address. An occasional prostitute who modeled for and also took art lessons with Toulouse-Lautrec was Suzanne Valadon, who moved on to a significant career as a visual artist.

Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901, a few weeks shy of his 37th birthday. The cause was probably alcoholism and syphilis. While he suffered terribly, Toulouse-Lautrec wasn't one to feel sorry for himself, and neither should we. Part of the deep pleasure of looking at his work is the manner in which it acknowledges the value of our time. Like a passerby on the street, even if we have only a second to look, we get something out of it. In his brilliant, graphic line that never stops moving, what comes through is his zest for life.


Toulouse-Lautrec's career coincided with the expansion of the urban middle class -- people with money to spend on entertainment, but who weren't part of high society. He anticipated and shaped the needs of this audience and his style began to make an impact during his lifetime, inspiring the exaggerated outlines, languid, organic forms and script writing that appeared in the Art Nouveau movement.

He is one of the pillars holding up the rest of modern art. Without him, you'd have no Picasso, Warhol, Diane Arbus, or Chuck Close. Toulouse-Lautrec's celebration of consumer culture and iconic popular advertisements paved the way for Pop art. In addition his portrayals fueled the obsession with superstars that persists today (think Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Miley Cyrus - the list goes on and on).

One further aspect of Toulouse-Lautrec's achievement deserves special attention. Despite the celebrated freedom and individualism of modern art, few artists of any period have been able to overcome social prejudice. While rubbing elbows with the riffraff was an acceptable, even encouraged rite-of- passage among avant-garde artists, Degas, Manet, and Van Gogh maintained a certain aloofness from their working-class subjects. Toulouse-Lautrec was able to develop true friendships that transcended the rigid class structure of 19th-century Paris. His brilliant insights into the glitter and desperation of Paris nightlife, a study in contrasts, were not only more brilliant but more humane than any that had come before him, setting the bar high for future artists.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Interactive chart with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Pierre BonnardPierre Bonnard
Francisco GoyaFrancisco Goya
Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Personal Contacts

Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Georges SeuratGeorges Seurat


Art NouveauArt Nouveau

Influences on Artist
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Years Worked: 1881-1901
Influenced by Artist


Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Alphonse MuchaAlphonse Mucha
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse

Personal Contacts

Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Edgar DegasEdgar Degas


Pop ArtPop Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein
Available from:
[Accessed ]

By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Useful Resources on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life

By Julia Frey

Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre

By Richard Thomson, Phillip Dennis Cate and Mary Weaver Chapin

Toulouse-Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880-1910 Recomended resource

By Phillip Dennis Cate and Belinda Thomson

More Interesting Books about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Analysis: Toulouse-Lautrec's Unique Composition and Artistic Expression

Art Institute of Chicago

Toulouse-Lautrec Recomended resource

By Paul Trachtman
Smithsonian Magazine
May 2005

Identity and Interpretation: Receptions of Toulouse-Toulouse-Lautrec's Reine de joie Poster in the 1890s Recomended resource

By Ruth E. Iskin
19th century Art Worldwide Journal

Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: