Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s first poster for the Moulin Rouge made him an overnight sensation. Some 3,000 copies were hung around the city in late 1891; almost immediately, intrigued Parisians began to flock to the cabaret. He went on to make a number of artistically groundbreaking (and commercially successful) lithographs for the Moulin Rouge and other similar establishments, as well as frank and empathetic depictions of Parisian nightlife.
To capture the acrobats, singers, and prostitutes who populated this gritty world, Toulouse-Lautrec spent most nights at brothels or cabarets with a sketchpad in hand or a canvas propped up on an easel. He was also very fond of alcohol, drinking more or less continuously each day (he was particularly obsessed with American cocktails, even inventing his own, “The Earthquake,” which was half absinthe, half cognac). And even after a long night of drawing and drinking, he still woke early to print lithographs. Minimal sleep and copious alcohol consumption eventually took its toll: Toulouse-Lautrec died young, at age 36, likely of syphilis and alcoholism.