Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1892-1895 painting At The Moulin Rouge is a gloriously seedy reproduction of the atmosphere of the historic Paris nightclub. Lautrec had an intimate relationship with the venue in his neighbourhood of Montmartre. Deeply integrated in a circle of artists, dancers, poets, and performers that congregated in the surrounding area, the artist’s Japanese wood-block influenced canvases are rendered with both an adoring and critical eye. It is one of a number of works featuring the infamous nightclub which was first built in 1889. In this one Lautrec captured the figurative reproductions of Édouard Dujardin, dancer La Macarona, photographer Paul Secau and Maurice Guibert all seated around a table. In the intimate foreground is the English dancer May Milton and the back right one can make out the star of the early performances, La Goulue. Opposite her on the far left is Lautrec himself and Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran. Thoroughly enjoying depicting his friends and acquaintances (it is said that the artist almost never strayed more than one square mile from his home throughout his adult life) Lautrec’s canvases are deeply humanist studies of often tragic figures.
At the Moulin Rouge is Lautrec’s masterpiece, his Absinthe-soaked vision of the immense green faces, menacing and inviting the audience. Almost single-handedly responsible for conjuring a vision of lamp-lit bohemianism, Lautrec’s world is a combination of a cheap horror novel and the woodblock prints that so captivated the French art scene in the late nineteenth century. What Lautrec witnesses, represents, and creates is a world more vivid and exotic than any subculture that would follow. Yet Montmartre was not the tourist haven it is today. In Lautrec’s day the area was a dangerous place which has now been bathed in a nostalgic light that Lautrec himself inadvertently helped to create.
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