Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was an aristocrat, dwarf, and party animal who invented a cocktail called the Earthquake (half absinthe, half cognac). He is the artist who designed the Moulin Rouge posters as well as paintings and drawings that capture highs and lows of urban life in nineteenth century Paris (in Belle Epoque). I especially admire Toulouse-Lautrec because he elevated advertising to the status of a fine art. In fact, Jane Avril, one of his closest friends and one of Montmartre's most beloved cabaret dancers, wrote: "It is more than certain that I owe him the fame that I enjoyed dating from his first poster of me." At a time when the only acceptable designation for persons with disabilities was freak, Toulouse-Lautrec used his unique appearance to his advantage. It allowed him to disappear into a crowd or corners of a room, seeing others without being seen. His remarkable observations of society almost certainly stem from his status as an outsider.
Toulouse-Lautrec was born into an aristocratic family in the South of France and raised in an atmosphere of privilege. By age 8, it was clear that he suffered from a congenital illness that weakened his bones. After two serious riding accidents his legs stopped growing. At his full height, Toulouse-Lautrec was 5 feet tall, with the upper body of a man and the legs of a child. He walked with a cane and in considerable pain for the rest of his life but was highly productive artist. Sadly he passed way too young at the age of 36. (On September 9, 1901 he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis).