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“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

At the Moulin Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is one of several works by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting the Moulin Rouge cabaret built in Paris in 1889.

This painting portrays a group of three men and two women sitting around a table situated on the floor of the nightclub.

In the background of this group is a self-portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec himself, who can be identified as the shorter stunted figure next to his taller companion.

Sitting at a different table is the dancer’s profile in the right foreground, with her face lit in a distinctive light. In the background on the right are a Moulin Rouge dancer and another woman.

All the people whose faces are visible have been identified as regular patrons of the Moulin Rouge and acquaintances of the Toulouse-Lautrec.

This composition includes:

  • at the table include:
    • Jane Avril –  a French can-can dancer, with her flaming red-orange hair 
    • Édouard Dujardin – a French writer who was one of the early users of the stream of consciousness literary technique
    • La Macarona – a dancer
    • Paul Secau – a photographer 
    • Maurice Guibert – also a photographer 
  • In the right foreground, sitting at a different table, is a partial profile, with her face lit in a distinctive light, of English dancer May Milton
  • In the background on the right is Moulin Rouge dancer La Goulue preening herself in the greenish mirror in the background, she is with a woman companion
  • In the center-left background is Toulouse-Lautrec with Dr. Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran – Lautrec’s cousin and closes friend

Toulouse-Lautrec memorialized Parisian nightlife at the end of the nineteenth century with multiple paintings, and the Moulin Rouge was one of his favorites.

Other works by Toulouse-Lautrec featuring he Moulin Rouge include:

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was attracted to its vibrant atmosphere and energy. He would often sit with his top hat and spectacles at a table covered with a white tablecloth, drinking cognac, and drawing with charcoal.

These sketches were studies for the oil paintings that he later made in his studio. Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed drawing the dancers’ movement and their lavishing dresses, and people at the bohemian Moulin Rouge.

His simplification in outline and movement and the use of flat planes of color make his Moulin Rouge paintings poster-like but powerful artworks of Parisian nightlife at the end of the nineteenth century.

The painting comprises two joined parts, a small main canvas and an L-shaped panel to the lower and right edges.

The canvas was cropped after Toulouse-Lautrec died to make the composition less radical and more saleable. It was restored a few years later after the artist’s style increased in popularity.

At the Moulin Rouge

  • Title:                 At the Moulin Rouge
  • French:             Au Moulin Rouge
  • Artist:               Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Year:                1892 – 1895
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    123 cm × 140 cm (48 in × 55 in)
  • Movement:      Post-Impressionist
  • Museum:         Art Institute of Chicago

“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1864 – 1901), also known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was a French painter, printmaker, caricaturist, and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, where his parents were members of a wealthy and aristocratic family.

His mother and father were first cousins, his grandmothers were sisters, and unfortunately, he suffered from congenital health conditions sometimes attributed to a family history of inbreeding. 

Modern physicians attribute his condition to an unknown genetic disorder, sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome.

His legs ceased to grow so that as an adult, he was extremely short (1.42 m or 4 ft 8 in). He developed an adult-sized torso while retaining his child-sized legs.

Physically unable to take part in many activities, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the arts from an early age. After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed his second attempt and completed his studies.

Later, when he sought independence from his mother, Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers.

Studying art in the heart of Montmartre, it became an area he rarely left over the next 20 years.

When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Although he had a regular and comfortable income from his family, making banners offered him a living of his own.

Other artists looked down on the work, but he ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are famous singers and dancers’ depictions.

Unfortunately, Toulouse-Lautrec was mocked for his short stature and physical appearance, which led him to abuse alcohol. In addition to his growing alcoholism, Toulouse-Lautrec also frequented prostitutes.

He was fascinated by their lifestyle and incorporated those characters into his paintings. In 1901, at the age of 36, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis.


“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A Virtual Tour of the Art Institute of Chicago

“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


“Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly that you feel you could die of it.”
– Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Photo Credit: 1) By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec via Wikimedia Commons 

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