HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC
1864 – 1901
The art of Henri Toulouse Lautrec forever changed the way the world perceives Paris. Combining the honesty of plein-aire painting and the realistic style that characterized the Barbizon painters’ view of nature, Lautrec exposed the underbelly of Parisian nightlife. Like the Impressionists Degas and Raffaelli, Lautrec contributed to the artistic revolution whereby elements of social consciousness became as important to a painting’s narrative as psychological representation. The emotional reaction that the combination of these two factors invoked in the public characterized the shift of art into the modern age.
Lautrec was to lithography what Rembrandt was to etching. Like Rembrandt’s self-portraits, which were revolutionary in their exploration of human expression, Lautrec’s numerous paintings of the model Carmen Gaudin (c. 1880s) successfully captured a range of human emotions. From fatigued laundress to indifferent prostitute, she came to embody a variety of disparate characters through his masterful touch.
Lautrec’s ability to “dissect” his model’s emotions both reflected a form of rigorous observation that marked the essence of scientific experimentation in the 19th century and resulted from early childhood experiences. Growing up with an unexpressive mother and an absent father, Lautrec was trained at an early age to interpret the subtler nuances of tacit feelings.
Lautrec died in 1901 at the age of 36, having suffered from a late form of dwarfism called pycnodysostosis. At the time of his death, his oeuvre consisted of 5000 drawings, 350 lithographs, and 500 paintings.