When Everything Seems Up

The Smithsonian recently ran an article about Toulouse-Lautrec:

"With an aristocratic pedigree, Lautrec lived off his family's diminishing feudal income from land in the Languedoc region of France. He was 4 feet 11 inches tall, having been born with a disorder -most likely from family inbreeding- that gave him torso but shortened legs. He quipped that he could falling-down drunk without harm, being so close to the floor."

His father, Count Alphonse, was a notorious eccentric known for disappearing for long stretches of time. Henri never became very close to him. Henri suffered from a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly. Fatefully, at twelve, he broke his left leg. And at age fourteen, he broke his right leg. Both legs ceased to grow, while the rest of his body continued to grow normally. Preventing him accompany his father in riding and hunting, he focused on sketching and painting.

In his late teens, Lautrec became a student of the artist Fernand Cormon, in Montmartre. His stunted physique earned him laughs and scorn, and kept him from experiencing many of the pleasures there, instead he drowned in alcohol. And he created thousands of artworks to memorialize his friends and advertise their venues. Among those whose images are now a part of art history are the Moulin Rouge dancers and Aristide Bruant.

He died at 36 in September. Dying, his mother and a few friends gathered. Even Count Alphonse came. Henri said, "Good Papa. I knew you wouldn't miss the kill." Then his father suggested that they cut off Henri's beard in accordance with Arabic customs and use Henri's shoelaces to flick at flies. Henri's last words were to his father, "Old fool."


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