The most celebrated dwarf of all times, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Copious amounts of money, not accepted by his father, deformed, unnaturally short, lover of reading and knowledge, highly skilled and gifted, drawn to prostitutes and drinking…NO I am not talking about Tyrion Lannister, I am talking about Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec. An extremely gifted artist with a sad story.

You might have spotted this famous artist in the acclaimed movie Moulin Rouge! Yes he is the dwarf that falls through the ceiling. He is famous for saying “The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.” 

Born into wealth

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born on November 24th 1864 in southern France he was the last in the line of a long aristocratic bloodline stretching back to the Crusades. Toulouse’s parents were rich. I am not talking a nice large house in Paris, I mean, castles, estates and bannermen.

Mysterious Bone Disease

In fact, Toulouse wasn’t a Dwarf, but he suffered from a strange bone disease. Today this disease is known as Lautrec Syndrome. (Yes not a lot of people have a street, town and disease named after them)

Lautrec was a sickly child. He was kept bedridden and isolated in the family’s large estate he discovered in his isolation a knack for drawing his favourite subject – horses.  When he was 13 he suffered an accident that left him disabled for the rest of his life.  With his bones already weak, due to genetics, he fractured both legs. His bones failed to heal properly.

Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec

A lonely child that turns to art

Because of Toulouse’s odd appearance, he was ridiculed on playgrounds. So it became only natural for Toulouse to start avoiding other children. He turned to the large library in his father’s estate and fell in love with reading and research. He was particularly drawn to art and Art History.

Moving to Paris

His parents divorced after the loss of a child born three years after Henri. This is quite a radical move for the times. But to save her son they set off for Paris. Henri’s mother became overly devoted to him, her only child. She was determined to find him the best Art Tutor they could afford. Having a powerful family name opened doors for this short talented student and he enrols under Léon Bonnat. During this time Toulouse and his mother survive on a family allowance that is given to them monthly from his father

Wondering off to Monte Marte

Later Toulouse-Lautrec studied under Fernand Corman who allowed his students to roam the Paris streets searching for subjects to paint. Toulouse-Lautrec took to the northern neighbourhood of Paris like a moth to a light.  Monte March as the neighbourhood was called was abuzz with artists, writers and philosophers.  Lautrec was enamoured by the nightlife he would sit in the crowded nightclubs laughing and drinking all the while swiftly making sketches of scenes that caught his eye.

The opening of the now legendary cabaret, Moulin Rouge, Toulouse falls in love with the Bohemian Revolution, their ideas and values. For this first time, this dwarf felt that he could belong, amongst the outcasts of Paris.

Graphic Designer for the Moulin Rouge

At the Moulin Rouge cabaret Toulouse-Lautrec was hired to produce posters to advertise the shows.  As an avid collector of Japanese woodblock prints, his work echoed that of Ukiyo.  As an artist, Toulouse-Lautrec soon became the premier poster artist for all the Paris glitter.

Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec Moulin Rouge

Dualism in his Art

Toulouse offers us two views of the Moulin Rouge in his works. The posters showed off the cabaret dancers as celebrities but his paintings offered a quieter more personal view of these women with the lights and the glamour stripped away.  Lautrec gave a direct and honest the depiction of these women behind the scenes.  His style emphasized the outlines of his subjects and captured their movement.

Depression, Drinking and Death

To cope with the ridicule of his deformity Lautrec abused alcohol and he fell deeper and deeper.  As the years went on Lautrec passed away due to alcoholism.

His Art Legacy

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec felt like an outcast throughout his life his own insecurities led him to seek out the downtrodden and those marginalized by society with a sympathetic eye.

“I paint things as they are. I don’t comment. I record.”

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