Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, along with Maurice Utrillo, is the epitome of a Montmartre artist. He is identified with the lifestyle and painted the scenes and people that are icons of Montmartre. He drowned his health in the pleasurable toxins so readily available in Montmartre.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithograph posters, paintings, pastels and drawings depict the dance hall girls, the chanteuses, the whores and waiters and their customers, the haute bourgeois or visitors from more tightly laced societies like England and the United States.
Breaking away from his colleagues, Toulouse-Lautrec honed his drawing skills and pioneered innovative techniques using empty space, color and stark lines, as bold as the subjects he followed so closely. He loved the performers, the dancers, prostitutes and pleasure prowlers of the belle epoque.
Early in his career he studied with other young artists with Fernand Cormon in the Cormon’s atelier-school at 10 rue Constance. He met artist Louis Anquetin, who was interested in subjects that attracted Toulouse-Lautrec.
For a while, Toulouse-Lautrec lived at 19, bis rue Fontaine with Rene Grenier and Lily Grenier, a model for Edgar Degas who had a studio in the same building. The courtyard at 19 is still bathed in sunlight and there is a line of low studio rooms on the left. No official plaque reports that Toulouse‑ Lautrec and the Grenier couple lived there, however.
In 1887, Toulouse-Lautrec left Cormon’s instruction and took his own space at 27 rue Caulaincourt where Dr. Henri Bourges, a childhood friend, lived. Toulouse-Lautrec stayed with him until the doctor married in 1893. A few years later, when Toulouse-Lautrec’s health was clearly declining, his mother rented an apartment in Rue de Douai to give him a proper home.
At number 30, rue Fontaine, not far from the Grenier residence, Toulouse-Lautrec rented a room in 1896 while he painted in a studio at rue Tourlaque shared with Suzanne Volquin. The crumbling facade at number 30 would have been a bourgeoisie building at that time. The Academy Julian was founded in 1868 by painter Rodolphe Julian, and the first to permit women as students. American impressionist Lilla Cabot Perry and Russian-born Marie Bashkirtseff were students.
Toulouse-Lautrec shifted his attention to the Moulin Rouge, 82 Boulevard de Clichy, when the can‑can became all the rage in the 1890’s. Dozens of can-can dancers still kick up a storm on the Moulin Rouge stage, billed as the “greatest cabaret in the world.”