Though he died young, at just 36 years old, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec left a body of work that still intrigues art lovers today. His paintings, illustrations and drawings give life to turn-of-the-20th-century Paris, and thousands of visitors flock to Albi, his hometown, each year to visit the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum and the collection of his works displayed there.
Who was Henri Toulouse Lautrec?
Far from the standard image we have of tall, dark, handsome, improvrished Post-Impressionist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a homely man from a rich family with a leg deformity. Born in the Pyrenees region of southwestern France, Toulouse-Lautrec migrated to the Montmarte neighborhood of Paris, where he met contemporaries Vincent Van Gogh and Emile Bernard and studied under some of the best painters of his day.
Toulouse-Lautrec socialized with the people who wouldn't make fun of his deformity--the dance hall girls, drinkers and ladies of the evening who populated Montmartre. His paintings depict this slice of Parisian life during the late 19th century. He eschews traditional artists' models and instead made sketches in the bars, brothels and dance halls he frequented. A regular drinker, he died from the effects of alcoholism in 1901 at the age of 36. He left an astounding body of work that included 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, and 5,084 drawings.
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, France
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, funded by the artist's mother after his death, is located in his birthplace, Albi, France. The museum, which opened in 1922, contains more than 1,000 works by Toulouse-Lautrec, the largest collection of the artist's works in the world. Located in the center of town, the museum is housed in a 13th century former Bishops Palace. The building itself is worthy of a visit.
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum is open every day during the summer months (June through August) and Wednesday through Monday the rest of the year. There is a modest admission fee, with discounts for students and families. Children under age 14 are admitted free of charge.
The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum isn't the only thing to do in Albi. The town boasts Sainte-Cecile, an historic 13th century cathedral and an UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a bridge (still in use) that dates to 1035 and a variety of charming French Gothic structures. If you are planning on visiting more than just the museum, the Albi Pass gives includes admission to Toulouse-Lautrec Museum and the Sainte-Cecile Cathedral as well as a number of smaller attractions. The pass also entitles holders to a discount at local shops and restaurants.
A trip to Albi makes an ideal side trip after a barge canal cruise through Bordeaux or the Canal du Midi region of France. The Barge Connection offers many barge canal itineraries throughout France. A barge cruise is a leisurely way to enjoy the picturesque countryside. Fully crewed barges include everything: accommodations on the barge, three gourmet meals daily, beverages including wine, all sightseeing entrance fees and the use of bicycles to explore on your own. Unlike a mega-cruise, a barge cruise allows you to get to know the regions and people you visit, by sampling the local food, chatting with the people who live there and roaming the quaint village streets.
Fun Facts about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec was a study in contrasts. Below are just a few interesting facts about the man and the painter:
- Unlike most late 19th century French painters, Toulouse-Lautrec came from an aristocratic family. His father was a count.
- The record sales price for a Toulouse-Lautrec painting was set by Christie's Auction House in 2005, when "La Blanchisseuse" sold for $24.5 million.
- In addition to painting, Toulouse-Lautrec worked as a printmaker, a draftsman and an illustrator.
- Toulouse-Lautrec had the body of a man, but very short legs. He was less than five foot tall.
- Andy Warhol is among the artists who cite Toulouse-Lautrec as being influential to their work.
- Toulouse-Lautrec's life is depicted in the 1998 French film, "Lautrec."
- Toulouse-Lautrec's posters were influenced by the work of 19th century Japanese poster artists, such as Ando Hiroshige and Utagawa Kuniyasu.
More than 100 years after his death, Toulouse-Lautrec's works still resonate with both casual and serious art lovers. His realistic, yet compassionate treatment of the seamier side of Paris life has influenced subsequent generations of artists and graphic designers.
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