Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on 24 November 1864, in Albi near the French Pyrenees. He was schooled at home by his aristocratic parents, and quickly displayed a talent for draughtsmanship. At the age of ten, Toulouse-Lautrec was hospitalised for severe bone pain, the start of a lifetime of physical complications and ill health. At the age of thirteen, he broke both his legs, neither of which fully recovered; due to a genetic disorder, his legs would cease to grow and he remained stunted throughout his life. Art served as an escape for the artist throughout his childhood.


Toulouse-Lautrec first visited Paris in 1872, when he enrolled at the Lycée Condorcet, however it was not until 1882 that he resolved to become an artist and moved to Paris. He initially studied under Léon Bonnat, before joining the studio of Fernand Cormon where he soon became acquainted with Émile Bernard and Vincent Van Gogh. Although academically trained, Toulouse-Lautrec abandoned traditional techniques in his paintings and adopted Eastern aesthetics, such as areas of flat colour and contrasting perspectives, discovered through his affinity for Japonisme. The artist settled in Montmartre in 1884, and frequented local nightclubs like the Moulin de la Galette and Le Chat Noir. He immersed himself in the bohemian life of the neighbourhood, and portrayed the artists, performers, patrons, revellers and prostitutes, synonymous with the area with a profound psychological empathy.


Toulouse-Lautrec maintained a disdain for bourgeois values, and found graphic media – particularly the medium of the poster – befitting of his ideals. His first poster, for the Moulin Rouge, was executed in 1891. Lithography would also prove a fertile source of creativity, and he created more than three-hundred designs, including the celebrated series Elles, 1896, that sensitively portrayed brothel life, after turning to the medium in 1892. Toulouse-Lautrec exhibited sporadically in his lifetime, though his posters were displayed all over Paris; he featured in the Salon des Arts Incohérents (1886, 1889) and exhibited with Les XX (1890). Toulouse-Lautrec drank heavily throughout his life and, suffering from syphilis, was admitted to a sanatorium in 1899. He died on 9 September 1901, at his family’s estate, Château Malromé, Saint-André-du-Bois.


Toulouse-Lautrec’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Louvre, Paris; the National Gallery, London; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London; the Tate Collection, London.