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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance” by Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, - At the Moulin Rouge- The Dance

“At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance” by Toulouse-Lautrec

“At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance” is the second of many paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting the Moulin Rouge cabaret built in Paris in 1889. It portrays two dancers dancing the can-can in the middle of the crowded dance hall. An inscription by Toulouse-Lautrec on the back of the painting reads: “The instruction of the new ones by Valentine the Boneless.” This inscription indicates that the dancing man is Valentin le désossé, a well-known dancer at the Moulin Rouge, and he is teaching the newest addition to the cabaret.

Featured in the painting are many aristocratic people such as poet Edward Yeats, the club owner and Toulouse-Lautrec’s father. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in the colourful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 1800s, which allowed him to produce a collection of elegant and provocative images of the modern and decadent, life of Paris at the time.

Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in Paris, France. The original house, which burned down in 1915, was founded in 1889. It is close to Montmartre in Paris; with a red windmill on its roof that marks it. 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 form 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 from around the world. The club’s decor still contains much of the romance of the end of 19th century France.

The Moulin Rouge cabaret quickly became a great success because it offered a mixture of unique factors. It had a revolutionary architecture for the auditorium that allowed rapid changes of décor and where everyone could mix. The festive champagne evenings allowed people to dance and be entertained thanks to amusing acts that changed regularly. A new dance that became more and more popular, the Can-can, where dances danced in rhythm in titillating costumes. Famous dancers and artist performed at the venue. It was also a place loved by artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec whose posters and paintings secured rapid and international fame for 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 colourful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century allowed him to produce a collection of enticing and provocative images of the modern and decadent scenes of those times. Toulouse-Lautrec is counted amongst the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period.

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 posters 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 depictions of famous singers and the dancers.

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.

In his less-than-20-year career, Toulouse-Lautrec created over a thousand canvas paintings, watercolours, prints and posters. Also, he left over five thousand drawings. His style was influenced by the Impressionists and by the classic Japanese wood prints which became popular in art circles of his time in Paris.

Reflections

  • What first comes to mind when you think of Toulouse-Lautrec?
  • What makes Toulouse-Lautrec unique?
  • Was Toulouse-Lautrec a talented and charmingly bohemian or a tragic artist?
  • Is Toulouse-Lautrec on your top 5, Post-Impressionist List of Artists?

Explore the Philadelphia Museum of Art

At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance

  • Title:               At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance
  • Artist:             Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Year:               1890
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions     H: 116 cm (45.55 in). Width: 150 cm (59.04 in).
  • Museum:         Philadelphia Museum of Art

Toulouse-Lautrec

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“Of course one should not drink much, but often.”
– Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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

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