Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the grand master of urban entertainments, living a hedonistic existence among the performers and prostitutes on the fringes of society. His life was inseparable from his art, celebrating the explosion of nightlife-culture in 19th century Paris.
Lautrec was a regular attendee of the numerous professional circuses staging shows around Paris. He had a personal attraction to the whirling dancers, flamboyant harlequins, and graceful jockeys atop muscular horses. With a keen, caricaturist’s eye, he captured their mesmerising acts in numerous drawings, paintings and prints.
While undergoing treatment for alcoholism at a sanatorium in 1899, Lautrec produced his most ambitious group of circus pictures, drawn entirely from memory. It was thanks to these drawings that Lautrec earned his release, their impressive handling convincing doctors of his improving health. As Lautrec left the clinic, he is said to have remarked, ‘I've bought my release with my drawings.’
Although his life was cut tragically short, his brief career coincided with the rising popularity of lithography, a medium which helped to secure Lautrec’s place in art history. He used it produce vivid advertising posters promoting Monmartre’s louche performers, giving them a celebrity status and elevating lithography into the realms of high-art.