“The painter, the true painter, will be he who can wring from contemporary life its epic aspect and make us see and understand, with color or in drawing, how great and poetic we are in our cravats and our polished boots.” -- Charles Baudelaire
At the Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892-1893.
Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of the nocturnal scene of the Moulin Rouge in urban Paris is immediately haunting and rather unappealing to the viewer. The seedy, green hues suggest sickness and a rather sinister atmosphere. The figures are swathed in shadow for the most part, their faces only highlighted by some strange artificial light. The Moulin Rouge was a popular venue for the less than respectable partiers in nineteenth century France, home to lascivious dancers and strange acrobats and bizarre sights. Despite its ugliness, Toulouse-Lautrec seems to be drawn towards the gaudy, sexually charged night life, perhaps even because of its seediness. His painting candidly portrays realistic, but rather unflattering, images of the denizens of the Moulin Rouge. The dancer in the back, Jane Avril, dances with her back turned towards the visitors, isolated in her own world. Toulouse-Lautrec was captivated by her thin, fading beauty, even when many would consider her physically unappealing. Like the Moulin Rouge itself, the southern French painter was drawn to the depressing realism of everyday life. His fondness for painting modern scenes are also seen in his posters advertising the Moulin Rouge, which gradually point him towards abstraction in his later years.