Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Despite being born into one of Albi's most aristocratic families, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) was always something of an outsider. He was notoriously short as a result of two teenage accidents that broke both his legs, stunted his growth and left him unable to walk without his trademark canes. He also had poor eyesight, brittle bones and a number of other congenital health problems that set him apart – so it's perhaps unsurprising that he identified with the stranger side of the Parisian underworld.
He spent his early 20s studying painting in Paris. Perhaps as a result of his own afflictions, he developed a rapport with many curious characters he came to know while frequenting the Parisian demi-monde – the nighttime world of seedy dance halls, brothels and late-night bars where most respectable Parisians never ventured. Entranced by this ugly-beautiful world, full of sadness, strangeness, life and colour, Toulouse-Lautrec had found his natural milieu, and the subject that would define his work.
Among his favourite muses were the cabaret singer Aristide Bruant, racy can-can dancers from the Moulin Rouge, and prostitutes from the rue des Moulins. He liked to work quickly, sketching on whatever was at hand – a scrap of paper, a tablecloth or a piece of cardboard.
Later in his career, he became a skilled and sought-after lithographer and poster designer, until drinking and general overindulgence (possibly coupled with a syphilis infection) led to his premature death in 1901, aged just 37. In a career spanning less than two decades, he had produced 737 canvases, 275 watercolours, 363 prints and posters, and an incredible 5084 sketches.