His Most Famous Painting (Moulin Rouge La Goulue) Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec
French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was famous for documenting the wild nightlife of the late nineteenth century France through his paintings and illustrations. Toulouse-Lautrec frequented the Moulin Rouge club at Montmartre in Paris. Charles Zidler, a partner at the Moulin Rouge offered Henri to design a new poster for the club. “Moulin Rouge La Goulue” was Toulouse-Lautrec’s first lithograph. In December 1891, three thousand copies of the poster were put up on walls all over Paris. The poster became an overnight sensation. It brought him great fame and established Toulouse’s career in poster making.
“Moulin Rouge La Goulue” was printed in Charles Levy’s workshop. Three sheets of woven paper had to be used to create this poster, as the size of the poster (195cm x 122 cm) was much bigger than the lithograph stone. The poster has four main colors, red, blue, yellow, and brown. The lettering style used in the poster is elegant and eye catching. The name of the cabaret ‘Moulin Rouge’ is printed in red and is visible four times in the poster, as if making a statement. It was a popular belief that the red color used in the poster was purposeful to actually hint at the red belt of Paris, since Montmartre was known for its notorious neighborhood.
Toulouse skillfully manages to capture the boisterous nature of the cabaret. He used the star performers of the club as the subject of “Moulin Rouge La Goulue.” This had not been done before. The poster depicts the scandalous Cancan dancer La Goulue (which means the Glutton) and her partner Valentin Le Desosse (also known as No Bones). A circle of spectators in the background is merely represented in a black silhouette. Their hats indicating that the crowd consisted of upper middle class men. La Goulue is right at the center on the dance floor as if giving a performance with one leg high up in the air and her skirts flared and flowing. Lautrec artfully depicts the dancer’s rustling petticoats by merely adding a few deft strokes to the white paper. The red color of her blouse and stockings stand out against the dull dance floor. In the foreground, we can see the acrobat performer Valentin in all blue.
“Moulin Rouge-La Goulue” shows Henri’s sheer brilliance and vision. What was supposed to be a promotional advertisement of the club became a true art masterpiece because of its revolutionary concept and impactful presentation. The poster was identified as a symbol of the late nineteenth century France and soon became a collector’s item.