11. He invented a cocktail.
Credited with inventing the Tremblement de Terre, an extraordinarily strong cocktail consisting of 3 parts absinthe and 3 parts cognac, Lautrec is said to have enjoyed the drink served in a wine goblet. The name – which translates to “Earthquake” – may be a reference to its startling effects on the imbiber’s body.
12. Lautrec was influenced by Japanese art.
Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints were in vogue in fin-de-siècle Paris, exerting a powerful influence upon the Impressionist painters. Like Degas and Manet, to whom his work is certainly indebted, Lautrec took inspiration from the Japanese aesthetic. His unconventional compositional angles and cropping, use of silhouette, emphasis on contour and flattening of space are all typical of ukiyo-e prints. Lautrec’s emphasis on individual performers also recalls the subject matter of the “pictures of the floating world,” which often featured popular actors, courtesans and musicians.
13. Some of his favorite subjects were prostitutes.
Lautrec’s humanistic portrayals of sex workers reveal an uncommon sensitivity, as in the striking Woman Before a Mirror (1897). And while his fondness for prostitutes certainly included the procurement of their services, fellow painter Édouard Vuillard observed that “the real reasons for his behavior were moral ones…Lautrec was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance. He found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the prostitute.” Lautrec’s oeuvre includes some 50 paintings on the subject, as well as numerous drawings and prints, including the 1896 series of lithographs, Elles, depicting brothel life.
14. Lautrec suffered from alcoholism…
Lautrec’s disability and physical appearance drew mockery and scorn among his aristocratic peers (and society at large). Perhaps in response to the physical and socio-emotional difficulties related to his condition, Lautrec turned to alcohol. He developed a particular fondness for absinthe, and is said to have filled a hollowed out walking stick with liquor so that he would never be without.
15. …Further complicated by syphilis.
Lautrec is believed to have contracted the disease at age 22, apparently from the prostitute Rosa La Rouge, who appears in several of his paintings. Towards the end of his life, Lautrec suffered from paranoia and hallucinations as a result of his chronic alcohol abuse and syphilis. On one occasion, while vacationing in the country with a group of friends, a gunshot was heard coming from Lautrec’s room; when his friends went to investigate, they found him brandishing a pistol against an army of “attacking” spiders.
16. He was a friend and ardent defender of Oscar Wilde.
The two became close in the 1890s while Lautrec was working in London. When Wilde was charged with sodomy and gross indecency in 1895, Lautrec was a vocal supporter. His Portrait of Oscar Wilde was completed on the eve of the trial—from memory, as Wilde, who knew his prospects to be dim, was too anxious to sit.
17. Institutionalized for his alcoholism, Lautrec earned his release with his art.
In February of 1899, after collapsing due to delirium tremens, Lautrec’s family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly-sur-Seine. During his three months at the institution, Lautrec produced 39 crayon and chalk drawings of circus figures, including the evocative At the Circus: The Spanish Walk (1899), executed entirely from memory. The ambitious series convinced his doctor’s of his improving condition, and he was discharged. Upon leaving, Lautrec remarked: “I’ve bought my release with my drawings.”
18. He had some choice words for his father on his deathbed.
In 1901, Lautrec suffered a stroke, likely due to complications from alcoholism and syphilis. Partially paralyzed, he was taken to his mother’s estate, Château Malromé in Saint-André-du-Bois, to convalesce. Not long after, on 9 September, Lautrec died at the age of 36. His father, who had been largely absent throughout his son’s life, arrived at his bedside shortly before his death. Lautrec reportedly remarked: “Je savais, Papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali” (“I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the kill.”) After his father did not respond, Lautrec uttered his last words: “Le vieux con!” (“the old fool!”).
19. He was incredibly prolific.
In a short career spanning less than 20 years, Lautrec left behind some 350 lithographic posters and illustrations, 737 canvased paintings and over 5,000 drawings. His oeuvre is considered a pillar of modernism, influencing a diverse array of artists including Pablo Picasso, Alphonse Mucha, Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus and Chuck Close.
20. His mother continued to promote his art after his death.
Lautrec’s mother, long his greatest supporter and champion, dedicated funds toward a museum to be created in his birthplace of Albi. Today, the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, housed in the historic Palais de la Berbie, is home to over a thousand of Lautrec’s works, the largest public collection in the world.
21. His legacy extends to the silver screen.
Lautrec’s larger-than-life personality has been adapted for multiple cinematic outings, including several highly awarded features. Lautrec is portrayed by José Ferrer in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1952); by John Leguizamo in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001); and by Vincent Menjou Cortes in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011).