ABOUT THE COVER
stitching has been naught,” wrote William Butler Yeats
(1865–1939) about the creative process (1). For sheer spon-
taneity, evocativeness, and impeccable draftsmanship, he
might have been describing the art of Henri de Toulouse-
Lautrec. The artist’s speed at work astonished his friends.
Having resolved technical problems in his mind, during
the gestation of the image or in countless sketches, photo-
graphs, and studies from life, he sang and joked during the
brief execution of the work.
Lautrec’s remarkable legacy seems to have started at
birth in Albi, one of the oldest cities in France, into a wealthy
family with ties to the Counts of Toulouse (2). He was an
engaging, rambunctious child with precocious wit. At age
4, he wanted to sign the register at his brother’s christen-
ing. Reminded that he could not write, he said, “It doesn’t
matter, I’ll draw an ox.” That was his earliest known work
(3). By age 10, he was an inveterate sketcher of people and
animals, illustrating everything he touched.
In what would appear an idyllic childhood, signs of
trouble, perhaps the underpinnings of aristocratic lineage,
started with the death of his young sibling before age 1.
Henri, whose parents were fi rst cousins, was also frail. His
mother took him out of school and moved to the country,
where she devoted herself to his care.
When he was 13, his life began to change: “I fell off a
low chair onto the fl oor and broke my left thigh,” he wrote
a friend. After a long convalescence, he could only walk
lopsidedly “like a duck.” Fifteen months later, he fell again:
“The second fracture was caused by a fall scarcely heavier
than the fi rst” (3). Henri, it appeared, had some unknown
bone disease, a congenital condition, possibly pycnodys-
line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not
seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and un-
ostosis (4). Despite the best available care and while the
rest of his body continued to grow, the legs atrophied. He
supported himself on a cane, which was surprisingly short
since his trunk and arms were of normal length. Walking
caused him pain and embarrassment.
Though limited by physical disability, he remained
upbeat. “I am small but I am not a dwarf,” he wrote, “...
no urchins have ever bothered me” in the street (3). He al-
ways wore a hat, even when he painted, “for the light,”
he said (3), although like his signature beard, it may have
concealed bone malformations.
He moved to Paris to study with Léon Bonnat, leading
portraitist and later professor at the École des Beaux Arts.
This apprenticeship turned him away from academic art:
“I want to paint like the primitives, whose painting is as
simple as that on a carriage door” (3). Later, under Fernand
Cormon, he met and befriended Vincent van Gogh, Émile
Bernard, and other artists, who sought him out for his open-
ness and originality. Aristide Bruant, legendary balladeer
and owner of cabaret Le Mirliton, initiated him to Mont-
martre: “I am against my will leading a truly Bohemian
life and am fi nding it diffi cult to accustom myself to this
Montmartre, an area on a hill away from the city, de-
veloped a unique personality, energetic and provocative,
“outside the law” (3). Its dance halls, cabarets, cafés, and
circuses held unending fascination. He painted them by
day and lived in them by night. “From ten o’clock in the
evening until half past twelve,” reported the newspapers,
“the Moulin Rouge [red windmill] presents a very Parisian
spectacle which husbands may confi dently attend accom-
panied by their wives” (3).
Lautrec lived in Montmartre, except for brief visits to
Spain where he studied the work of El Greco and Diego Ve-
lásquez; Belgium; and England where he met Oscar Wilde
534 Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 14, No. 3, March 2008
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance (1890). Oil on canvas (115.6 cm x 149.9 cm). Philadelphia
Museum of Art: The Henry P. Mcllhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. Mcllhenny, 1986
Hygeia as Muse
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia,
ABOUT THE COVER
and James McNeill Whistler. He exhibited often and was
enormously productive, creating before he died at age 36
more than 1,000 paintings and 5,000 drawings. Although
he maintained artistic independence, he was well connect-
ed. He consulted with Pierre Bonnard, was captivated by
the impressionists, collected Japanese prints, and thought
an Edgar Degas painting owned by his cousins so compel-
ling, he declared he was always ready to “say his prayers
before it” (3).
The 1880s and ’90s, the Belle Époch in Europe and
around the world, saw unprecedented scientifi c and tech-
nological advancements. Literature and the arts, biology,
physics, and psychology were transformed. Theater and
music adopted new methods, shocking audiences with their
frankness. In Paris, the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin
Rouge offered carnival-like entertainment. Celebrated can-
can dancer Jane Avril and Louise Weber, dubbed La Gou-
lue (the glutton, for guzzling drinks), attracted huge crowds
with decadent performances. Lautrec with his cherry-wood
cane, black-and-white checked trousers, and fl at-brimmed
bowler hat was a regular fi xture.
Lautrec was fascinated by human behavior but painted
those who interested him: working women; cabaret propri-
etors; entertainers, whose brilliant if transient careers he
observed dispassionately. His works were restrained, as he
thought all art should be, but fi lled with movement. His
sparse palette and bold, assured brushstrokes captured the
essence of nightlife, the glare of the stage, the shadows of
gaiety, the despair and loneliness of crowds, the plight of
the working poor, the physical pain of dancers as well as
their agility. On one album of lithographs he wrote, “I saw
this,” a phrase borrowed from Francisco Goya’s Disasters
of War. The phrase could describe Lautrec’s total artistic
output, the life of his era, regulated brothels and all.
Color lithography was new and very popular, and Lau-
trec adopted it as preferred medium. The technique, prac-
ticed by many greats (Alphonse Mucha, Pablo Picasso, Jas-
per Johns) originated in 1796. Based on the principle that
oil and water do not mix, it uses both to form a print on a
smooth surface. An image drawn with grease chalk onto a
stone is moistened; ink is applied, which sticks to the draw-
ing but not to the stone; inked areas are transferred to pa-
per. Each color requires a different stone and separate pass
through the press. Lautrec’s lithographs, though known as
posters, were not today’s mass-produced photographic re-
productions. They were multiples of small editions, each
print individually made, one of a kind, original. “Poster”
referred only to large size (5).
Publicity posters made by the lithographic technique
were a major innovation of Montmartre artists. Lautrec’s
fi rst effort and his best, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, was an
overnight sensation, pushing him and La Goulue to star-
dom. The critics took notice. Notoriety encouraged him
to continue in the medium, introducing such innovations
as spattered paint to simulate the aura of nightclubs and
radical placement of fi gures and objects to achieve unprec-
edented immediacy. He created more than 300 lithographs,
among the fi nest ever produced.
At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance (on this month’s
cover) epitomizes bourgeois gaiety in a luxurious establish-
ment. This large multiple fi gure composition exemplifi es
Lautrec’s vivid contrasting colors and meticulous execu-
tion. Dancing on the left is Jacques Renaudin, nicknamed
Valentin le désossé (boneless Valentin) because of his rub-
bery limbs. Gathered in back, left of the waiter, a group
of friends, among them Jane Avril, a photographer, some
painters; in the center, a professional dancer; mingling with
the crowd, colorful women ready to offer their hearts at the
right price. The viewer is virtually in the painting.
Amusement, fanatically pursued by the crowds in dance
halls and by Lautrec himself, at times, equals living on the
edge. For him, excess was compounded by disability and
emotional isolation, as well as by the plagues of his time,
syphilis (6) and possibly tuberculosis: “Visibly, before the
very eyes of his friends, he began to burn himself out, slowly
at fi rst, then with ever increasing speed” (3). He continued to
grow as an artist, his style evolving up to the time of death.
The need to gather in large venues to see and be seen
and to exchange ideas is not limited to Paris cafés and
private clubs. This need, to break barriers, showcase new
work, and focus on the problems of humanity, lives on to-
day in scientifi c conferences. There, ideas mingle with per-
sonalities, and bit by bit, solutions are worked out for as the
poet put it, “It’s certain there is no fi ne thing / Since Adam’s
fall but needs much labouring” (1).
Hygeia is a capricious muse. She eludes the compro-
mised artist toiling in pain and without physical charm but
inspires the globe-trotting scientist gathering in today’s
venues to blast conventional wisdom and seek solutions to
emerging infectious disease.
1. Finneran RJ, editor. The poems: the collected works of WB Yeats,
vol. 1. New York: Macmillan; 1989.
2. Frey JB. Toulouse-Lautrec: a life. New York: Viking Press; 1994.
3. Huisman PH, Dortu MG. Lautrec by Lautrec. Secaucus (NJ):
Chartwell Books, Inc.; 1964.
4. Maroteaux P, Lamy M. The malady of Toulouse-Lautrec. JAMA.
5. Adriani G. Toulouse-Lautrec: the complete graphic works a cata-
logue raisonné. London: Thames & Hudson; 1988.
6. Semaan S, Des Jarlais DC, Bice S. Sexual health in art and science.
Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12:1782–8.
Address for correspondence: Polyxeni Potter, EID Journal, Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd, Mailstop D61, Atlanta,
GA 30333, USA; email: PMP1@cdc.gov
Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 14, No. 3, March 2008 535