Toulouse-Lautrec’s style

I am fascinated by the French artists of the 19th century. Monet, Renoir, Degas and Manet in particular. But it’s Toulouse-Lautrec who I think has the more interesting story.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

My first thought when viewing Lautrec’s paintings is for Degas. The real life nature of his behind the scenes look at the Parisian brothels is quite reminiscent of Degas’ work at the ballet.
It also puts me in mind of Manet or Renoir in that there is some close study and strong tone around the face.

Seated Ballet Dancer - Toulouse Lautrec

Seated Ballet Dancer – Toulouse Lautrec

Lautrec was a man who never seemed to let his disabilities get the better of him. At just 4’8″ his legs were weak and he was quite clearly a man with some health issues. His love for alcohol and beautiful women however led him to be party to some incredible events. Most notably and famously the Moulin Rouge and the associated acts of La Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Time).

Lautrec’s style appeared hasty to say the least. He often worked on cardboard where the natural tone of the background would appear through any gaps in his brush / pencil strokes. It’s a neat effect.

La Promeneuse by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oil on cardboard, dated 1892

As well as being influenced by the older and more established Degas he found inspiration in the works of the far east. Japanese wood prints offered Lautrec a great deal in their style and execution. The use of diagonal direction and flat colour within harsh black outlines became very common in Lautrec’s work.

I love the colour in his work. The soft, blue / lilac tones that help to lift the skin tones. Their relationship to the whites and pale pinks found in the clothes of his models (who weren’t models at all but working prostitutes and dancers).

It’s easy for me to be inspired by Lautrec in that his work seems instantly accessible. But to reproduce it takes some serious thought. For one Lautrec’s most striking work was completed with oil. My own work is largely pencil based due to my love of the soft shading. But this aside I’m going to produce a few pieces based on my brief understanding of his style and technique.

Detail of La Promeneuse

Detail of La Promeneuse

Ultimately I will produce them digitally using Corel Painter but to start with I want to use cardboard and a soft range of pencils. I’ll struggle to get the whites that he used but perhaps that’s something I can achieve with chalk or pastel.