Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born into an aristocratic family in the south of France in 1864. His father, Count Alphonse, was a notorious eccentric known for all kinds of unpredictable behavior: from washing his socks in the river (unheard of for an aristocrat!) to galloping off to a hunt wearing outlandish costumes, to simply disappearing for long stretches of time. The young Henri never became very close to him.
Unknown at the time, Henri suffered from a genetic condition that prevented his bones from healing properly. Fatefully, at age 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. At maturity, Lautrec was 4 1/2 feet tall. But his great misfortune was a sort of blessing in disguise, at least from our perspective. After his accidents he was no longer able to follow his father in the typically aristocratic pastimes of riding and hunting. Instead, he focused on sketching and painting art, prints and posters.
Lautrec captured the spirit and emotion of the era in his art, prints and posters. Although his handicap and alcohol abuse kept him from enjoying some of life’s pleasures, Lautrec clearly shared in the joie de vivre of the time.