|Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec|
|Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1893.|
While Impressionist painting was celebrating its triumph, the French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became the chronicler of the sparkling lights of the night spots, the theaters, the circuses, the brothels in the last years of 19th century Paris. An aristocrat, nervous and deformed, he was an untiring observer of contemporary society. Satirical artist and forerunner of publicity designers, Toulouse-Lautrec invented the affiche.
At the Moulin Rouge is probably the most strange of his entire works, and it is one of a vast series of paintings dedicated to the dance halls then in vogue in artistic Montmartre. From the end of 1880s to the early 1890s, the places like circus, launched by the commercial system of the Parisian show world in continuous movement, were the principal subject of Toulouse-Lautrec's pictures, appreciated in exhibitions and fetching high prices in private dealings.
The perpetual kermesse, the masked balls, th egas lights, the electric lighting, all captured the artist's fantasy.
Clearly conceived as an especially important painting, both for its size and composition, At the Moulin Rouge represents a group portrait with the artist and some of his friends mingled among a group of women, regulars at the dance hall.
The artist and his cousin Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran appear in the background; the woman arranging her hair at the mirror is La Goulue (the Glutton), the stage-name of the dancer Louis Weber, who apparently got the nickname because of her habit of emptying clients' glasses. In the foreground around the table are gathered, from left to right, the literary dandy Edouard Dujardin, La Macarona, the photographer Paul Sescau, and the champagne merchant Maurice Guibert. There is some uncertainty regarding the red-haired woman portrayed from behind. The most common hypotheses identify her as the dancer May Milton or Jane Avril.
The painting has characteristics of a private picture, immersed in a spectral atmosphere. Although his friends are intelligent gentlemen of elevated social condition, the artist portrayed them as tired and superficially worldly. The women occupy a marginal position, on the sides of the masculine triangle, because their presence is requested and paid for, but not their company. No one is talking, no gazes cross: a desolated atmosphere of social alienation dominates the scene.
The entire painting reflects the strong influence exercised by Japanese prints in France during this period, evident above all in the photographic approach used.