Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
French, 1864–1901
At the Moulin Rouge

Oil on canvas
48 7/16 x 55 1/2 in. (123 x 141 cm)
Stamped lower left with monogram
Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1928.610

Because of childhood injuries that left his legs crippled, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec often felt left out of the aristocratic world into which he had been born and lived at times on the margins of society. He frequented the Moulin Rouge, a famous Parisian nightclub named for the red windmill on its roof. In this painting of the club, he depicted many of his friends and favorite entertainers.

In the background, La Goulue, the Moulin Rouge’s reigning dance star, adjusts her red hair while the dwarfish Toulouse-Lautrec and his tall cousin, Gabriel Tapié de Céléyran, walk toward the left. The glum assembly of characters seated around the table includes writer Edouard Dujardin, entertainer La Macarona, photographer Paul Sescau, winemaker Maurice Guibert, and another redhead, perhaps entertainer Jane Avril. The woman with the green face illuminated by artificial light is May Milton, another popular dancer of the day.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Post-Impressionist style is a highly personal combination of the Impressionists’ interest in contemporary subject matter and his own expressionistic color and line. The eerie green light of the interior evokes an unhealthy atmosphere. The artist then added to the visual drama by using different lines, such as the curving silhouette of La Goulue fixing her hair, the collar of Avril’s coat, and the outline of Milton’s sleeve. These lines contrast with the strong diagonals of the banister and the floorboards, which rush forward toward the viewer, enhancing the lively mood of the decidedly worldly setting.