Creator: Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is one of the most famous late 19th century French painters and illustrators. His is best known for depicting life in 19th century Paris, particularly the Moulin Rouge nightclub/brothel, where he was a permanent resident.

Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the most recognizable painters, due to his short height. Many people assume he suffered from dwarfism, but in reality he struggled with congenital health conditions, worsened by him breaking both his right thigh bone at age 13 and his left a year later. The bones never healed the way they were supposed to, and even as an adult he was only 4 foot 8/ 1.42 m high. Despite being born in an aristocratic family his grotesque appearance made him an outcast and he went on living a bohemian lifestyle in Parisian night clubs, cafés and brothels. As a result popular culture often depicts him as some kind of Depraved Dwarf, but in reality he was a troubled artist who only felt accepted in the sleazy, decadent nightlife of the French capital. He drowned his sorrows in alcohol and absinthe, while making some of the most elegant and colorful posters, lithos and paintings ever made.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a personal friend of many other artists of the time, including Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Vuillard and Oscar Wilde. He is also an example of Short-Lived Big Impact, being only active for about 20 years and dying at age 36 from the effects of alcoholism and syphilis.

Toulouse-Lautrec's name provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: He liked the theatre. His many paintings and drawings of nightclubs are one example, but his early work also depicted the circus.
  • Bottle Episode: The majority of his art is located in Paris, more specifically around the Montmartre.
  • Chorus Girls: His paintings feature many women like this.
  • Crap Saccharine World: Toulouse-Lautrec's work has a bittersweet undertone. On one hand it shows the fun of the Parisian nightlife, on the other there is a certain melancholy to it as well.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Many of his paintings and posters depict dancing women in the Moulin Rouge, especially ones dancing the can can.
  • Gay Paree: His work cemented our idea of late 19th century Paris.
  • Genius Cripple: Despite his handicaps and health problems Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in painting...and became one of the most celebrated artists of the Post-Impressionist era.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Contrary to Victorian values Toulouse-Lautrec painted them not as debaucherous loose women, but as sympathethic and intrigueing individuals. He was friends with many of them and felt a connection based on the fact that they too were outcasts.
  • Improbably Female Cast: Drew a lot of famous Parisian night club stars, like Jane Avril and La Goulue.
  • Kissing Cousins: A good part of his physical problems can be traced back to his pedigree, as his parents were first cousins whose family had a history of inbreeding, as was common in aristocratic families.
  • Mirror Self: A famous photo from 1891 shows Toulouse-Lautrec painting himself as if he were twins. The effect was created by photographic trickery.
  • Never Accepted In His Home Town: He wasn't accepted by high society, despite actually being from an aristocratic family, so he spent most of his time in the sleazier parts of town, which was also reflected in the subjects of his work.
    • It should be noted, however that his parents subverted this trope; they accepted him for who he was, and he died on the family estate.
  • The Oldest Profession: He painted and drew a lot of prostitutes.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The general public knows he made pictures of dancing women and prostitutes in the Moulin Rouge, but he is far better known for being a small man. Most references in popular culture uses his small height as a joke.
  • Self-Deprecation: Toulouse-Lautrec endured a lot of mockery because of his stature, but he poked fun at himself once in a while too: one of his caricatures depicts him in the nude with stubby fat legs. [1]
  • This Bed of Rose's: Toulouse-Lautrec practically lived in the Moulin Rouge, the only place where he felt accepted. This also explains the homely look he gave this location in his work.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: He showed prostitutes as they are, without condemning their lifestyle.
  • Write Who You Know: His work shows the night club life in Paris, which he witnessed first hand. A lot of his sketches and paintings both portray the singers and dancers during their shows, but also backstage moments where people dress up, drink alcohol, sleep in bed with their clients or the doctor paying his weekly visit.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in popular culture

  • His image has been used in 2014 advertisements for Mazda.

  • Ronald Searle made a drawing depicting Toulouse-Lautrec's version of "The Raft Of The Meduse". It features him as a comical dwarf between grotesque prostitutes who tower above him.
  • De Kiekeboes: In Hotel O. all the hotel chambers are named after famous painters. As a matter of a joke a very tiny man rents the "Toulouse-Lautrec" room. Later in the story the chamber maids perform The Can Can Song for him.


  • Moulin Rouge (1950), a biographical novel by Pierre La Mure, follows Lautrec through his whole life and contains vivid impressions of his family, his circumstances, and the milieu in which he lived and worked.
  • Sacré Bleu, a 2012 by Christopher Moore has Lucien Lessard work together with Toulouse-Lautrec to solve the mystery of Vincent van Gogh's death. Toulouse-Lautrec is portrayed as a Lovable Sex Maniac who spends much of his time in a brothel. But he's seen to be an extremely loyal friend and one of the more pleasant people in the novel.

Live-Action TV
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: In a sketch from the first season a cycling tour is organized where various painters are the contestants. As a small visual joke Toulouse-Lautrec is seen passing by on a tricycle.
  • Toulouse Lautrec's portrait of cabaret artist Aristide Bruant is often cited as an influence on the costuming of the Fourth Doctor - the one played by Tom Baker - on Doctor Who.

  • Many CD's with music from French 19th century composers, like Erik Satie, for instance use works by Toulouse-Lautrec on the covers.
  • Ash has a song entitled "Astral Conversations with Toulouse-Lautrec."

  • The Goon Show: The "Tales of Montmartre" sketch is a humorous dialogue between Paul Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
    Gauguin: You can keep my paintings.
    Toulouse-Lautrec: What good are they?
    Gauguin: Nothing now, they'll be worth a fortune after I'm dead.
    Toulouse-Lautrec: After you're dead... [GUNSHOT] I'm rich!

Video Games

Western Animation
  • Sponge Bob Squarepants: In "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost", when Squidward is deciding where he wants his "throne" to be laid down, he complains that some spots are "too hot", "too wet", and "Toulouse-Lautrec", and then cuts to a painting of his re-done with fish.