Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi, France, in the southern region of Midi-Pryenées into a poor but aristocratic family. At age 8 he moved to Paris with his mother where he began his artistic training.
After school, Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. When the Montmartre dance hall Moulin Rouge opened its doors, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to do a series of posters, including “La Goulue”, of Louise Weber, creator of the can-can. Many of his posters were simply portraits of his friends, like the flamboyant and energetic dancer, Jane Avril. Lautrec immersed himself in the nightlife and low life of Paris, which contributes to the cynicism depicted in his work.
This time period saw the rise of printmaking into the world of high art from its origins as an affordable middle class alternative to oil painting. Lautrec’s dark, dramatic style and daring compositions revived the medium of lithography which had experienced its first exposure with Jules Cheret’s lively and bold prints. Lautrec’s style ranged from Impressionism to Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and Expressionism, with stylistic references to Degas. He was also influenced by Japanese printmaking, as were many other prominent artists of the time. Lautrec’s smaller prints often make use of lighter lines, more delicate colors, and greater tonality than his more audacious larger works. Both his large and small works possess an active and vivid quality that captures a moment in time. The rough spontaneity of his style is an illusion that disguises a long process of thought and observation.
Despite the high living that contributed to his early death, Lautrec was strictly professional when it came to the production of his work; he oversaw the color printing and proofs, and would intervene until the desired result was achieved, even resorting to destroying a work and beginning all over again. This arduous process of approval contributed to the limited number of his prints that were produced.
Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901 at the age of 36, cutting short a career that had tremendous influence on future artists, most notably Pablo Picasso.