One of the leading Post-Impressionist painters, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864 in Albi, France. Born into an aristocratic family, he was the son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse. From an early age, Toulouse-Lautrec was encouraged to develop his artistic talents and by the age of 10, he had begun to draw and paint.
As a child, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from a genetic disorder, which often made him sick and would later restrict his growth. After riding accidents in 1878 and 1879, when he broke both of his legs, the bones failed to heal properly and his legs ceased to grow. As an adult, Toulouse-Lautrec was only 1.54 m (5 ft 1 in) tall, having developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs.
In 1882, Toulouse-Lautrec moved to Paris with his mother and became a pupil of the academic painters Bonnat and Cormon. Under the influence of other artists of the time, especially Degas and Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec broke away from traditional painting and in 1884, he set up his own studio in Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle. Toulouse-Lautrec spent much of his time drinking, carousing and sketching in cabarets, racetracks, and brothels.
When the nearby Moulin Rouge opened in 1889, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Thereafter, the Moulin Rouge always reserved a seat for him. Around this time, he also painted scenes of brothels after having spent so much time in them. The prostitutes and madams accepted him to such an extent that he often moved in, and lived in a brothel for weeks at a time.
By the 1890s Toulouse-Lautrec had become a leading figure in the Parisian art world. In 1889, he had already exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, Paris, and prior to that, he had exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in London.
Throughout his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec drank heavily and in 1899 he was confined to a sanatorium. In 1901, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Château de Malromé.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words were reported: “Le Vieux con!” meaning “Old fool!”