Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), known as the great dwarf painter, was a French painter born into a hereditary aristocratic family in Albi, France. On September 9, 1901, the multi-talented painter died at Malrome Castle due to alcoholism at age 37, the same age Van Gogh died.
An innovator in art, he was known for his depictions of artists and showmen who captured and accurately represented the life of the unbridled artists of the Montmartre in Paris. Louise Weber was such an entertainer, and people like him were called "the glutton".
Toulouse-Lautrec broke both legs in childhood and became deformed afterward. His intelligence and achievements compensated for this physical defect. This extraordinary man naturally demanded to find another world - a world where his genius would be recognized, where his physical defects would not cause any resentment, and where his aristocratic manners, rare for this class, would be attractive.
Someone who knew him once said: "Although this is a terribly absurd statement from his monstrous appearance: Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec is charming."
Toulouse-Lautrec, who had loved painting since he was a teenager, first studied with a local animal painter who was also disabled. He received his teacher's understanding and care. He strove to enter the sacred territory of painting, as he told his friends when he first turned 17: "I try to depict the real and not the ideal".
In order to further his studies, at the age of 18, he came to Paris and entered Bonnat's studio, where he met the new generation of painters such as Bernard and got acquainted with Van Gogh and Gauguin. That was at the time of the boom of Neo-Impressionism and the spread of Japanese Ukiyo-e.
Toulouse-Lautrec was not interested in Impressionism and admired Degas' passion for sketching. His paintings have agitated lines and vivid contours. He was once interested in Gauguin's decorative lines and flat colors and soon adapted everything he learned and gradually developed his own distinctive style, which Daumier also influenced.
The true glory of Toulouse-Lautrec's art came during the days when he lived in Montmartre, an up-and-coming entertainment district. Having lived in an environment of luxury and pleasure since childhood, he developed an indulgent character, so he frequented this semi-upper-class society in search of inner balance and anesthesia, with the difference that he carried a paintbrush in his hand with the passion of a painter and a heart that felt the beauty of forms. He went to dancing halls and brothels to observe prostitutes and depicted their lives, their gestures, and their images, not in a conscious attempt to expose anything but the natural, ideal form of the naked woman.
Toulouse-Lautrec was a completely independent painter who hated all theories and schools of thought, and he did not accept students. The figure was his only subject matter. His painting method was used to see the model as a whole without giving any shadows, and he was only curious about people. For him, light plays only one role: illumination. It does not change his colors, nor does it bring any change to a definite, adequate object. He created an ideal cold light, which allowed him to discover the human figure, from which he obtains profound secrets. In this way, the models he created were spiritual and psychological nudes. This is why his style of painting is bright, simple and straightforward.
Countess Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec
This portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec's mother, painted when he was 23 years old, shows his artistic outlook at the time.
The most vivid aspect of the painting is the airy background, which draws on some Impressionist expressions but has a painterly sharpness and jitteriness. However, some aspects of the picture seem too restrained and fluid, possibly due to a sense of reverence for his mother.
Vincent Van Gogh
This is a portrait he painted for Van Gogh in 1887. Toulouse-Lautrec came to Paris to meet Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch painter he admired.
Toulouse-Lautrec, although formally trained at the Academy, discovered and adopted the vivid and bright colors of the Impressionists. He admired Edgar Degas's pastel paintings, so this portrait is painted with pastel, and the brush is flying in the painting, full of passion.
The artistic treatment of this painting is very individual: the brown background is unevenly painted but gives the impression of proportionality. The figure wearing a white blouse with green shadows and rose reflections stands out exceptionally in front of this dark background that is both richly varied and harmoniously unified. The figure is clearly and finely defined and separated from the background, creating a sense of flat color, but the light and darkness, and fiction still emphasize the sense of the shape of the form.
Ball at the Pancake Mill
Toulouse-Lautrec depicted this "paradise" scene with a Daumier-like ironic stylized tone. The woman in red stands out against the predominantly green setting, and a group of gentlemen is active in the scene. In the center of the painting, a couple is dancing, the man's figure flexing and stretching at will, indulging in a half-humorous, half-indulgent state. The woman crosses her legs, lifts her long skirts, kicks and twists, fully displaying her unrestrained posture. However, their facial expressions are very dull, as if their crazy movements are just a habitual reaction or a subconscious need. Men and women of all kinds get a little mental numbness and relaxation in this free world of indulgence and wild dance.
In addition to the vivid and vibrant colors, the painter also used dashing and flowing lines and brushstrokes to enhance the momentum, the sense of noise, and the debauchery of the picture. The colors, lines and brushstrokes in this painting are strongly expressive.
The glutton who walked into the Moulin Rouge
The painting is composed of a half-length close-up, showing the moment when La Goulue, accompanied by her sister and the dancer, is entering the Moulin Rouge ballroom. The bodies of both women are cut in half by the border of the painting, and they are hidden in the background in dark, heavy-colored dresses, thus highlighting the image of the debauched La Goulue in light-colored, bare-breasted clothes. The artist uses contrasting techniques to shape the image. The accompanying woman and the man passing behind her are basically colored with flat paint, while La Goulue is painted with "lines", which are spirited and varied, with lines and blocks of color, light and dark, creating a contrast. The yellow face and flesh appear bright against the dark color, while the green lines of the main character's top and the background green reflect each other, creating an airy feeling in the picture. The painting is comical and illusory, with the image of the "real queen of the nightclub" appearing in front of us.
In The Café
Edgar Degas' Absinthe inspired this painting. The artist attempted to paint a scene of Parisian underworld customs - an old prostitute and her lover, both sitting at a small table drinking wine. A photograph of the man who posed as a model for the painting has been preserved: the man was a pleasant and lovely young man named Maurice, and the woman was physically graceful. The painter intentionally scandalized and disfigured them, condemning their imaginary sins. The slightly frivolous tone of the picture gives away the artist's intention to give the painting a vaudevillian "appeal", encapsulating a social theme into a dramatic gag.
In this painting, the prostitute is vividly portrayed, especially the hand on the table revealing the vulgarity of her entire life, and her sideways gesture and gaze leave no doubt about her lowly nature. The artist's mockery of Parisian civilization is evident, but his despair and sorrow lie behind it.
Salon of the Moulin Rouge
Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor to the "Moulin Rouge" nightclub in Montmartre, Paris, after its opening in 1889. He sought not only worldly consolation but also a sublimation of pleasure, seeking his subjects. Here he inspects and expresses the nature of this earthly "paradise" with great sensitivity, understanding, and deep compassion.
This painting gives the impression of an absurd and ridiculous pretense of nobility and dignity. The salon itself is as sacred and solemn as a temple, but there is always a sense of impurity here. Some prostitutes waiting there pretend to be upper-class noblewomen, and it is interesting that the painter intentionally painted a half-naked standing figure of a prostitute with half of her body cut off by the border on the right side, which is the essential key to opening this noble scene. The painter used a serious attitude to convey this absurd situation to the world with his brush. The colors add a psychedelic atmosphere to this absurd scene. The pungent and obscure resonance of purple, green, and rose brings the whole scene into a realm of illusion.
Harlequin Chayu Kao at the Moulin Rouge
The main figure in this painting is the harlequin Chayu Kao, a dancer often painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. In the painting, she leans her body and sticks her hands in her trouser pockets, giving the impression of walking. She was the most popular dancer, but because of years of excessive nightlife, her body has gradually fat and muscle slack, and she is getting older. She dresses up in debauchery and funny, strange appearance and has a forced smile to amuse people. Her expression is both moving and sad.
Critics considered Toulouse-Lautrec a "portrait painter of people in action".