Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Dance

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter during the 19th century. He lived a rather short-lived life, dying at age 37, but he has a remarkable collection of art left over. I first heard of him in my Modern Art class last fall and we learned about his illustrations, partially Jane Arvil.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1893

This spring when the art department went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I found a painting by Lautrec there called At the Moulin Range, The Dance created in 1890 (the blue looking feathers on the work are reflections of the lights in the Museum room).

Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Range, The Dance, 1890

This scene takes place in the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris which was created a year earlier (1889). This place was unique in it’s time. For one, compared to other buildings the Rouge had a completely different architectural structure making it a place of new excitement. Also, this was where entertainment occurred during the night. People came here to dance, drink, hang with friends, watch famous dancers, and more. Much of Lautrec’s work references the Rouge.

Photo of Moulin Range from 1900

Photo of Moulin Range from 1900

When I first saw this work online I didn’t like the painting; however, when I saw this work in person my opinion changed. Mostly, I enjoyed the color palette of the piece. The light green color around the painting creates a calm effect. Also, the light pink dress of the women is very lovely. Joseph Rishel commented on the painting that “one of the mysteries…is the dominant woman in the foreground, the beauty of her profile made all the more so in comparison with that of her chinless companion. It is the latter who expresses better than nearly any other character in this full stage of people Lautrec’s profoundly touching ability to be brutally truthful but also truly kind in his observations.”

The women in the pink dress has a calm and collect appearance compared to the couple in the middle who are dancing the “cancan,” which was a popular dance at the time.

This is an interesting contrast were many individuals in the painting appear to be untroubled and minding their own business while two individuals in the middle ground are dancing.

Based on a description of the work by the Museum, this painting is filled with female prostitutes, contemporary artists of the time, and people who visited the Rouge often. These were individuals who were considered to be “members of Lautrec’s demimonde.” Also, tt is believed that the poet William Yeats is here with a white beard leaning on the bar.


Maurice Guibert, Mr. Toulouse paints Mr. Lautrec, 1891

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