Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was arguably the greatest graphic artist of

his time; he is best remembered for his bold, colourful posters of

Parisian entertainers. His childhood years were spent at his family

chateau in the southwest of France where he broke both of his legs and

therefore stunted his growth. This left him ill proportioned and

dwarfish. This unfortunate event probably helped his artistic ability

as he spent most of his time on his own.

Lautrec was at his peak as a painter and poster artist in the early

1890's at the time of the post impressionists.

During his life Lautrec felt most comfortable in the nightclubs, dance

halls and brothels of Paris. The narrow life he led is clearly shown

in the art that he produced. Lautrec was best renowned for his

paintings of the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian entertainers. Lautrec

was not the first artist to make the Parisian entertainers serious

subjects to paint, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degaswere among the first

to paint the Paris nightlife and others soon followed their lead like


Although Lautrec's many paintings looked spontaneous and carefree he

as never "slapdash" as in he was never messy or careless. He was in

fact a dedicated craftsman who knew a lot about the technical matters

of his work, especially printmaking. Even after a rough night he would

be up to supervise the printing of his lithographs bright and early.

Lautrec always carried a small sketchbook with him so he could quickly

draw or sketch whatever caught his attention and today thousands of

his rapid drawings still survive in the original sketchbooks. He has

also reached the elevated position of a dead artist where there is a

museum dedicated to him and his work in Albi, France close to where he

was born near Toulouse. In the actual paintings of his sketches he

tried to keep the spontaneity of the first sketch and therefore liked

to work quickly. To work fast he liked to use paint that was thinned

considerably with turpentine, which was called peinture a l'essence,

which allowed him to so called 'draw with the brush'. He also liked to

use absorbent cardboard instead of canvas so the paint would dry

quicker and therefore could maintain his momentum.

Most painters have a trademark technique and Lautrec's trademark was

the printmaking technique called 'crachis' or ...

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addition the painting must have been a restrained and balanced

masterpiece. The unidentified redhead sitting at the table is wearing

an exotic headdress that stands out magnificently against her red

hair. If you look at each person they each have a distinctive hat or

hairstyle as Lautrec was fascinated by different styles of headwear.

The mirrored background that lines the walls gives the painting an

undefined background so the silhouetted figures stand out boldly in

the mirror. I liked this painting because it shows the somewhat quiet

of the normally busy Moulin Rouge. The way Lautrec contrasted the

brightly painted woman and the redhead at the forefront of the

painting with the blacks and browns of the background also attracted

me. I also admired the way Lautrec maintained the spontaneity all

through his work.

My favourite painting of the two that I have talked about is 'At the

Moulin Rouge' because I think that this one looks more difficult to

paint than 'At the Circus Fernando' as it is in greater detail and

most importantly I think it looks better. But take nothing away from

'At the Circus Fernando' as this is also a brilliant piece of art.
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