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At the Moulin Rouge
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cbowers's picture

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It's no secret that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was inspired by the spirited Parisian nightlife in Montmartre. The guy loved to party.

He painted what he knew so most of his paintings are dancehall scenes. This painting features Lautrec himself, his friends (a photographer and a winemaker), a cousin, and his favorite Moulin Rouge entertainers, all having a ball. 

If you ever get the chance to see the painting in person, you can see a fold on the right side of the canvas where a portion of the painting was removed. I guess some genius advised Lautrec that it would be more appealing to potential buyers without the weird green woman glaring in the corner. 

That guy was wrong. The panel was later reattached, and thankfully so. The startling neon face is the most exotic and exciting part of the picture. Who wants to stare at the backs of Lautrec and his buddies as they huddle around a table, drinking and talking and making everyone else feel unwelcome? Without this dancer's creepily lit face we are complete strangers, unwelcome intruders in a Parisian nightclub packed with locals. And you know how the French are about tourists.

As a footnote, the dancer in the painting is though to be May Milton. May was English and she danced in Paris for only one winter, after which she pretty much vanished. She was supposedly not very pretty and also not a good dancer so perhaps no one minded. Lautrec nonetheless included her in this painting, and also in a poster that became very popular. So popular that even big daddy Pablo Picasso had a copy of May hanging in his studio.  

 

 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about At the Moulin Rouge

At the Moulin Rouge (French: Au Moulin Rouge) is an oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It was painted between 1892 and 1895. It is one of a number of works by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting the Moulin Rouge cabaret built in Paris in 1889; the others include At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance and the poster Moulin Rouge: La Goulue.

The painting portrays near its center a group of three men and two women sitting around a table situated on the floor of the cabaret. From right to left, the people at the table include: Édouard Dujardin, dancer La Macarona, photographer Paul Secau, and photographer Maurice Guibert. In the right foreground, apparently 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 and a woman. The center-left background shows Toulouse-Lautrec himself, as well as Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran.

At the Moulin Rouge is owned by the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, where it was first displayed on December 23, 1930. It was exhibited in London in 2011 at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about At the Moulin Rouge.