When visiting Albi, I’d suggest including a tour through the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in the Berbie Palace. Once the bishop’s palace, it now houses a vast collection of the native Albi artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. You can see some of his early work, but also his famous end of the 19th century Parisian brothel scenes. On top of that, you learn more about one of Albi’s key monuments, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa- to give his full name- was born in Albi in 1864. His father and mother were full cousins, both coming from one of the oldest French noble families. At the age of ten, a genetic disease started to affect the development of Henri’s bones. Due to this illness, he stopped growing and had reduced mobility, which required long recovery periods. To pass his time, he started to draw and paint scenes from everyday life. Through a friend of his father’s, he started his art education in Paris. After his studies, he lived the Bohemian Parisian life in Montmartre at the end of the 19th century. He still had an eye for scenes taken from life, including the regularly visited brothels. But he also made world-renowned posters and lithographic prints, of which there is a collection in the museum.
Palais de la Berbie
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lived for art and pleasure. Unfortunately, his excessive consumption of alcohol led to worse health. He died at age 37 in his mother’s castle of Malromé in Gironde. After his death, his family donated his work to create the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi. The Palais de la Berbie is the place that exhibits the largest public collection in the world of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work. And visiting the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum also allows you to walk through parts of the former bishop’s palace. The palace, built in the 13th century, is like a fortress with high, thick walls. The Court of Honour gives access to the museum. Besides artwork, I also walked through the Great Hall of the Tour Saint-Michel with its 13th century tiled floor, the Amboise gallery with its Renaissance ceiling paintings, and the honour grand staircase with a beautifully decorated ceiling.
And just when you think you have seen it all and want to leave the museum, the Berbie Palace hides another surprise. Walking around the Berbie palace brought me to a remarkable classical 17th century garden with artfully trimmed boxwood hedges. One gardener is in charge of the- only manual and organic- maintenance. You can access this garden separately and for free. From the shaded walkway, I took in the view of the Tarn river and the Madeleine district across the river. It’s quite a place for an art museum!