Lautrec suffered from a rare bone disease and after two falls in the late 1870s which fractured his legs it became clear that he would struggle to walk again, let alone ride, and his dedication to drawing has sometimes been interpreted as a compensation for his forced immobility. René Princeteau was taken on as a tutor for the teenage artist—“our budding Michelangelo”—as his mother called him in a letter to her sister in 1882. A friend of Lautrec’s father, Princeteau was an accomplished painter of horses and hunting scenes whose brilliant brushwork suited Lautrec’s manner, which even at this early stage showed hints of the energetic, lively lines of his later work.
As Anne Roquebert notes, 1879 sees a marked change in the development of Lautrec’s style: “Freer, with a more vigorous touch and a lighter palette, it was now better adapted to his equestrian subjects… He worked harder and harder, admitting to having a ‘furia’ for painting and already talking like a professional, using phrases such as ‘me, my palette and my brush’ or ‘Sainte Palette’” (Anne Roquebert, “Early Work,” in Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1991, p. 65). Galloping horses are characteristic of paintings from this period and his work soon surpassed that of his teacher. Thanks to his upbringing, Lautrec’s depictions of horses are well-informed but never static, a quality to which the traditional genre of equestrian art was prone.
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