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Albi Travel in the Footsteps of the Post-Impressionist Toulouse Lautrec

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Famous Association with Montmartre

19th century Montmartre was the home of the post-impressionism painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec for most of his adult years. He loved this neighborhood.

Toulouse-Lautrec was deformed and was a very lonely man. To fight off loneliness, he spent time in the Montmartre cabarets and bar. Everyone knew Toulouse-Lautrec and he chatted to everyone, both rich and poor.

Many of his posters, paintings and sketches portray the nightlife of the working class. They capture the nightlife in the brothels, cabarets, dance halls & the bars. Through his art, we get a glimpse of what Montmartre nightlife was like in 19th century. Montmartre not only attracted the working class but also the rich men and avant garde artists, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Toulouse Lautrec, 1890, in his studio in Montmartre, working on "Moulin Rouge"
Toulouse Lautrec, 1890, in his studio in Montmartre, working on “Moulin Rouge”

Toulouse-Lautrec did not paint Montmartre nightlife as an outsider as he felt a close affinity to many of his subjects. He felt like an outsider himself and therefore felt drawn to the lonely prostitutes and dancers. The artist understood them without any judgement. Toulouse-Lautrec’s deformity enabled him to empathize and feel comfortable with the underclass and oppressed people of society.

The Brothels of Montmartre - Toulouse-Lautrec Painting
The Brothels of Montmartre – Toulouse-Lautrec Painting [Public Domain]

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Blue Blood

Ironically however, Toulouse Lautrec’s family background was the the antithesis of the poor, working class life that he led in Paris.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s family was very wealthy and had an ancestry that extended without interruption for over 1000 years, back to the time of Charlemagne (747-814). He grew up in an aristocratic family who loved the upper class sports and arts.

Henri’s grandfather, father and uncle were all talented draftsmen. Unsurprisingly, Henri began sketching at the age of 10.

Disease, Deformity & The Pursuit of Art

In 1878 Toulouse-Lautrec fell and broke a thigh bone. A year later he fell again and broke the other one. His legs did not properly heal and they also stopped growing. His torso developed normally, giving Toulouse-Lautrec a deformed appearance. Many attribute his congenital disorder to the fact that his parents were first cousins and that there was a long line of inbreeding within the family’s ancestry.

After these falls, Toulouse-Lautrec required many painful treatments and long periods of rest. Over time, his leg muscles atrophied and became weak. This made walking difficult for him. As a result, Toulouse-Lautrec spent hours sketching and painting to pass away the long, lonely hours.

Albi Travel related to Toulouse Lautrec’s Past

Toulouse-Lautrec Painting of Albi Aqueduct
Toulouse-Lautrec Painting of Albi Aqueduct [Public Domain]

Hotel du Bosc, Albi – The Family Home

Toulouse-Lautrec was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi – in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. The Toulouse Lautrec mansion, located on the street now named Rue Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, is not open to the public. However its stables outside have been converted into a restaurant, called Restaurant Le Lautrec.

Musee Toulouse Lautrec, Albi

The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec is housed in a historical bishop’s palace near the river. It is called Palais de la Berbie. The building itself is magnificent and worth the visit in its own right.

This impressive museum houses more than 1,000 of the artist’s drawings, paintings and posters. The museum’s collection includes not only his famous posters, but also his early drawings and paintings. Interestingly, the Louvre rejected Toulouse-Lautrec’s artwork shortly after his death. This is Albi Museum’s gain!!

Albi Travel: Toulouse Lautrec Museum
Albi Travel: Toulouse Lautrec Museum

After visiting the museum, stroll outside and explore the magnificent gardens around the corner. They are breathtaking and provide the most stunning views of the river and bridge below!

If you purchase your tickets ahead of time online, you can bypass the queue and scan your ticket at the turnstile. You will need to store your backpack in a locked locker. 

The gardens outside the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi
The Gardens outside the Museum / Image by anne plumelle from Pixabay 

Albi is a wonderful base when traveling around this part of France. It is both small & beautiful. See below accommodation options.

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Château du Bosc, the country retreat of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Aristocratic family

North of Albi lies the Château du Bosc, one of the country holiday homes of the Toulouse-Lautrec family.

After Henri’s falls, he spent a lot of time in this Chateau convalescing. Here you will see a wonderful collection of family photos and sketches by Henri & other members of the family. Look out for Henri’s first drawings made before even learning to read at 4 years of age!

As far as Chateaus go, this one is not that impressive. But most people go less for the building and more for the person who spent so much time there – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. There are excellent guides that share their wealth of information about the Toulouse-Lautrec family history.

For more information about Château du Bosc and its guided tours, press here.

Albi Travel: Chateau du Bosc
Albi Travel: Chateau du Bosc / Photo by (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Chateau Malrome – The home of Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother

The beautiful Chateau Malrome dates back to the 16th century, surrounded by a vineyard cultivated for over five centuries.

Malrome castle was the home of Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother. Each summer Toulouse-Lautrec left Montmartre to stay with his mum here in Malrome. He had his own painting studio here. He painted and sketched his mother, the gardens and the beautiful vineyards.

Malrome was the artist’s refuge. He loved spending time here surrounded with the warmth and love of his mother. He would also visit his cousins in the nearby Castle of Respide.

It is here in Malrome castle where Toulouse-Lautrec died on September 9th, 1901 at the young age of 36.

Albi Travel: Malrome Castle
Albi Travel: Malrome Castle / Photo by Henry SALOMÉ [CC BY-SA 4.0]

A Visit to the Malrome Castle

Today you can do a wonderful house tour and visit the rooms where Henri spent some of his time. The castle also exhibits contemporary artworks of other artists and has a restaurant serving food of the region.

The château does not open for guided tours until around 3pm in the afternoon. They start a tour as soon as they have enough visitors, so try to arrive at around 3 o’clock. The tour provides a wonderful glimpse into the artist’s fascinating family life. A great bonus is a sample of their home-grown wines from the vineyard, which you can purchase.

The Malrome castle is a heritage site of the Entre-Deux-Mers region in South Gironde.

Painting of Countess Adele de Toulouse Lautrec in the Garden of Malrome
Countess Adele de Toulouse Lautrec in the Garden of Malrome [Public Domain]

Visit Toulouse-Lautrec’s Grave in Verdelais

On 9 September 1901, at the young age of 36, Toulouse-Lautrec died from complications due to his alcoholism and syphilis. He is buried in the Cimetière de Verdelais, just a few kilometers from his mother’s estate, Château Malromé in Saint-André-du-Bois.

After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, Adèle Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, and his art dealer, Maurice Joyant, continued to promote his artwork. His mother also donated money for creating a museum in Albi, to show his works. This museum, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, now owns the largest collection of his artworks.

Toulouse-Lautrec's grave in Verdelais
Toulouse-Lautrec’s Grave in Verdelais / Photo by Henry SALOMÉ [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Looking for a guided tour in Albi & the surrounding towns, see the links below: