760: Toulouse-Latrec by Robert Burleigh

by Gerard

760.092: Burleigh, Robert. Toulouse-Latrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light. New York: Henry N. Adams, Inc., 2005. 29 pp. ISBN 0-8109-5867-8.

The arts, and especially the visual arts, are very spread all across in the 700s. Graphic arts (what we call “posters”) sit in the 760s. And, naturally enough, a biography of a graphic artist is classed at 760.092. Easy enough.

So…during the process of choosing which books I will read for each Dewey section, I was happy to find a book that went directly into 760. Most artists get filtered out to the 740s (drawing) or the 750s (painting), so finding a pure 760 was rather fortuitous (or so I thought).

And then I received the book. Nowhere—I repeat, nowhere—did I happen to notice the intended audience of this book. This was most likely because I was excited to find it and see that it was very cheap on Amazon.

It’s for teenagers.


This speaks to a complete lack of vetting on my part, and not to an ulterior obfuscation of the facts by the bookseller. In any case, I was a little let down.

BUT! Being the persevering bibliophile that I am, I read it anyway. Namely, because I didn’t know a damn thing about Henri de Toulouse-Latrec other than the fact that he was a French artist in the 19th century.

In 29 over-sized pages, Robert Burleigh gives a concise and start-to-finish biography of Toulouse-Latrec, while still exhibiting a representative sampling of his work. Henri de Toulouse-Latrec was born in 1864 to a family of aristocrats. He had a weakened skeletal structure and broke both of his legs at a young age. This disease stunted his growth, and he never reached five feet tall. He made up for this by adopting a wonderfully charming wit (and also by being moderately rich). After traveling to Paris to go to school, he improved his artistic skills and started capturing the life and landscape around him.

Henri made a wealth of friends and spent a lot of time at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre (Paris suburb). So much so that he designed posters for them and the surrounding businesses, as well as painting portraits of all his friends and acquaintances. He died young, but created roughly 6,300 works of art. His style attempted to capture the uniqueness of every subject as well as the lights and motion of everyday life.

Someday, I will replace this book with an actual scholarly biography, but for now, this will do.

Burleigh undoubtedly leaves out some of the more harsh details of Parisian life in the late 19th century. As an artist, I would stereotypically expect some bouts of drug and alcohol abuse, but the author wisely edits those parts out. All in all, it makes a decent coffee table book and an avenue to start looking into one of the first graphic artists.