Henri de Toulouse – Lautrec – At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance (1890)

Oh, the parties they must have had at the Moulin Rouge on New Year’s Eve! Or on any night, for that matter. A place where the socialites, the intellectuals and artists could mingle, celebrating life with dance, alcohol and joie de vivre.

Built in 1889, the famous Parisian cabaret was fortunate to find a great ambassador to consolidate its image in the person of the French artist Henri de Toulouse – Lautrec (1864 – 1901). Toulouse – Lautrec loved that place, which he often depicted in his post-impressionist paintings and Art Nouveau posters and illustrations.

As the son of two aristocratic first cousins, the inbreeding may have been a primary cause for his birth health problems; his legs stopped growing, while his torso fully developed. With a height of only 1.42 m (4 ft 8 in), Toulouse – Lautrec was constantly ridiculed and cast like a pariah. This is why he found a lot of sympathy for society’s outcasts – the drunks, the prostitutes, the lesbians, which he could meet at the Moulin Rouge.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance (1890), oil on canvas

At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance (1890) was painted in the first year of the cabaret, and we can see the crowd of well-dressed people gathered there, with space for two dancers in the center. As it later was found out, the scene presents a well known Moulin Rouge dancer at the time, Valentin Le Désossé (Valentin the Boneless), showing the routine to a new can-can dancer. An elegant, aristocratic woman, dressed in pink, is drawing attention in the foreground. Her clothes stand out from all the rest, the other people being dressed in shades of black and brown. The woman looks calm and gracious. Perhaps she is meeting someone there …

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