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,