Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864, the only son of an aristocratic family. His parents separated in 1868, following the death of Henri's younger brother, and he was raised mainly by a nanny for much of his early life until the age of eight, when he travelled to Paris
to live with his mother. There he first began to display his artistic talents, and he occasionally received informal lessons from a friend of the family, Rene Princeteau. By the age of eleven, however, his health problems had become evident, and he was returned to his birthplace at Albi. His health problems are believed to be due to congenital defects related to inbreeding (his parents were first cousins). At the age of thirteen he fractured his right thigh bone, and the left was fractured the following year, after which both did not heal properly and ceased growing. The rest of his body grew properly, so in adulthood he stood only 5'1". Because of his defects, he dedicated himself to art in the absence of the pursuits normally enjoyed by men his age.
As an adult he initially failed to gain entrance to college, but succeeded on his second attempt, completing artistic training in Nice. There his talent was such that he was recommended to the studio of Léon Bonnat, who worked in Montmartre, the heart of the bohemian scene in Paris. Henri worked with Bonnat for several years until 1882, when he began working in the studio of painter Fernand Cormon, who allowed Henri to more fully explore Montmartre and the artistic community there. During this time he made friends with many in the community, including Vincent Van Gogh
and Émile Bernard. This also marked the first time he painted the prostitutes of Montmartre, allegedly after an encounter with a prostitute that may have been paid for by his friends. In 1887 he ceased his studies with Cormon and participated in his first exhibition, using the pseudonym Tréclau. His work was fairly well received, and he was invited by a critic to present his work at another show, at which one of his paintings sold for 150 francs to the brother of Vincent van Gogh. In 1889 he began to take part in the Independent Artists' Salon, with whom he would remain involved for five years. That same year he was commissioned to create a number of posters for the newly-opened Moulin Rouge, for whom he continued to work for much of his life. By 1893 his alcoholism, precipitated by a lifetime of being mocked for his defects, and probable syphilis infection was beginning to take a toll on him, and his health entered a period of decline. Despite this, he continued to work, producing paintings, prints and illustrations for the magazine Le Rire
and even travelling briefly to work in London
, where he created a number of posters as advertisements, as well as befriending the Irish
playwright Oscar Wilde
. In 1899 his mother and friends had him placed in a sanatorium. He died in 1901 of complications from alcoholism and syphilis. He was 36.
In Other Media
Henri has appeared in a number of films. The first portrayal of him is in the 1952 film Moulin Rouge
, wherein he is played by José Ferrer. In 1998 the film Lautrec
, a biographical documentary about him, was released, followed the next year by a musical also called Lautrec
. In 2001 he is featured in the musical film Moulin Rouge!
wherein he is played by John Leguizamo. In 2004 he makes a brief cameo appearance in Disney's Around the World in 80 Days
. He makes a brief appearance in the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris
, wherein he is played by Vincent Menjou Cortez.