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“At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Waltzing” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

"At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Walzing" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Waltzing

“At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Waltzing” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicts actual people from the Parisian nightlife at Montmartre at the end of the 19th century.

The female clown Cha-U-Kao is one of the women dancing, and the can-can dancer Jane Avril is behind her, in the red jacket with her back to the spectator. 

Cha-U-Kao was a French entertainer who performed at the Moulin Rouge and the Nouveau Cirque in the 1890s.

Her stage name was also the name of a boisterous popular dance, similar to the can-can, which came from the French words meaning “noise” and “chaos.” She was a gymnast before she worked as a Parisian female clown. 

Cha-U-Kao soon became one of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite models. He was fascinated by this woman who dared to choose the classic male profession of clowning and was not afraid to declare that she was a lesbian openly.

Toulouse-Lautrec sketched Cha-u-Kao with her partner, and these sketches would be included in his portfolio, “Elles.” Her partner was Gabrielle the Dancer, another performer and model for Toulouse-Lautrec.

Although Toulouse-Lautrec was born into an aristocratic family, he identified himself with people from all sections of French society. Toulouse-Lautrec imbued his personal experience in his paintings set at the Moulin-Rouge.

The Moulin-Rouge was founded in 1889, a few years before this painting. It is close to Montmartre in Paris, with a red windmill on its roof as its trademark. Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. 

Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a kind of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.

Today, the Moulin Rouge is a tourist attraction, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors worldwide. The club’s decor still contains much of the romance of the end of 19th century France.

Jane Avril

Jane Avril (1868 – 1943) was a French can-can dancer made famous by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec through his paintings. 

The Moulin Rouge nightclub hired Avril in 1889. Within a few years, she headlined at the Jardin de Paris, one of the major cafés-concerts on the Champs-Élysées.

To advertise the extravaganza, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted her portrait on a poster that elevated her stature in the entertainment world.

The can-can’s popularity became such that Avril traveled with a dance troupe to perform in London in 1896.

At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Waltzing

  • Title:                At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Waltzing
  • Artist:              Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Year:               1892
  • Medium:         oil on cardboard
  • Dimensions:    Height: 93 cm (36.6 ″); Width: 80 cm (31.4 ″)
  • Museum:        National Museum in Prague

Toulouse Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge

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.


Toulouse Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge

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“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 2) Museum of Modern Art [Public domain]

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