Unlike his contemporaries, Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed some mortal success. His thick lines and flat bold colours – inspired by Japanese woodcuts – made fine bedfellows for new lithographic technology in the late 19th century, and his reputation as one of the first great poster artists flourished. His oil paintings employed the same lines, coupled with masterly brushwork to convey the seedy sparkle of his subjects.
Living in Montmartre, Toulouse-Lautrec sketched the bohemian life that surrounded him: cabaret dancers, prostitutes and inebriates all featured.
The artist had broken both legs as a teenager and a congenital disorder stopped the bones from healing properly. Thus his legs stopped growing while his torso developed to normal proportions. He only grew to a height of 4ft 11in. Some have suggested that years of inbreeding by his aristocratic heirs (his parents were cousins) caused the genetic disease that stunted his growth. Whatever the cause, Toulouse-Lautrec drank to excess in response to his physical problems. He was also an inveterate skirt chaser (and often heard to comment “I may only be a small coffee pot, but I have a big spout”) – passions that drew an alcoholic, syphilitic death aged just 36.
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