The Saddest Artist in History

A look at the tragic life and works of the infamous post-impressionist artist, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.


Madelynn Preister, Reporter

     Many have heard the inspirational cliche that whatever art is created should be original to the creator, and the creator only. Whatever the artist creates should be based out of originality and composed in the depths of their own mind. Of course, this philosophy was probably more emphasized when classical art was increasingly prominent in culture. But living in the urban city of Paris during the Post-Impressionist period of art leaves an immense amount of room for originality and interpretation to blossom.

     Born in 1864, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec was the son of a wealthy aristocratic family that resided in the South of France. As his parents were first cousins, this lead to some… genetic malfunctions that caused Lautrec’s legs to stop growing after separate riding accidents that occurred in his teens. This led to Lautrec resting at just under five feet tall for the rest of his life, with a proportional upper body of a man, and the legs of a child. Lautrec had to walk with a cane and considerable pain until he died at 36 years old.

     Aside from being an influential artist, Lautrec also was remembered for his louche lifestyle, inventing the cocktail – The Earthquake, and spent much of his time in the brothels of Paris. Lautrec’s art was and is looked upon as refreshing, if not incredibly real. Many of his pieces were able to encompass the highs and lows of urban life in Paris, ranging from dance hall performers to prostitutes. Lautrec seemed to have a fascination with sordid and destolute subjects, as seen in The Streetwalker and Elles.

     As one of Lautrec’s most famous works, The Bed, might seem mundane to any who view it in today’s world. An average painted couple, laying in bed asleep if anything might seem boring. But if you think back to the overdrawn philosophy I mentioned at the beginning of this article – that an artist’s work should be original to themselves, something they’ve never seen before, this painting simply becomes sad. When learning Lautrec never loved in his life, and the only relations he had in any forms were with prostitutes, or that he was mocked for his size throughout his life and became an alcoholic, his art suddenly becomes unbearable to look at.

     Maybe they should say that artists should create what they know, not because it’s unbelievable when they extend themselves so far out of their experiences, but because when they do, they pull it off with incredible elegance. One looks at the art Lautrec created, art with such rawness, emotion, and love, and wonders how he could create something like this without it breaking his heart. One cannot think of Lautrec without wondering about the lovers he created and knowing it was beyond his experiences. Creating something that he knows is beautiful, and knows he’ll never really understand.

Print this entry