Tag Archives: Montmarte

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – At the Moulin Rouge

16 Jan

Perhaps the most well-known and most detailed of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, At the Moulin Rouge takes the viewer into a decadent and gaudy nightlife of Montmarte, with the glamour stripped away.

1892-95. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-LautrecHenri Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted this painting between 1892 and 1895. The scene depicts the infamous cabaret Moulin Rouge, which first opened just a few years earlier, in gloomy and misty October of 1889. Henri was instantly attracted to its vibrant atmosphere and energy. Imagine him, with his top hat and spectacles, sitting at the round table covered with white tablecloth, drinking cognac and drawing with charcoal, capturing movement of the dancers and their lavishing dresses, and people around him. These sketches were merely rudiments for the oil-on-canvas paintings that he later made. Moulin Rouge became his second home, and wellspring of inspiration because night life, dancers and cabaret became his main subject. There was something honest about Moulin Rouge. On one hand it was a bewitching, artificial, glamorous world, but on the other hand, it was more truthful, a straightforward place for the ‘working class heroes’, artists and eccentrics. Toulouse-Lautrec found beauty in places that other artists discarded. In spirit of Zola’s Naturalism, he relished in the aesthetics of ugliness, and meticulously studied faces of people and their individual characteristics. He stripped away the glamour of Moulin Rouge and the nightlife of Montmartre, and, at the same time painted scenes so evocative of La Belle Epoque Paris. His paintings posses a charm today still, and are entrancing for the modern viewers even though more than hundred years had passed since their creation.

(I suggest you to enlarge the painting by clicking on it)

Look at the painting. The first thing you notice is the crowd in the middle. Three men and two women are talking. They appear to be sharing the newest gossip, or discussing something important. The lady with the orange-coloured hair certainly stands out (possibly a can-can dancer Jane Avril). We see a part of her hand in black glove, perhaps she’s talking and gesticulating, but she turned her back on us so we can’t be sure. She’s dressed in a typical flamboyant La Belle Epoque manner, her wide sleeved dress and collar are trimmed with fur, her red hair is adorned with a black hat. There’s a bottle and a half full glass on the table. Across from her sits a man seen from the profile (Edouard Dujardin), clutching a walking stick and whispering something to a lady next to him (dancer La Macarona). She seems dizzy from alcohol, and there’s a sense of irony in her smile. The remaining two figures at the table are the photographer Paul Sescau and the vintner Maurice Guilbert.

Behind the crowd we see the artist himself, a short figure with a hat, walking with his cousin Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran, a tall and equally grotesque figure. In the backdrop, another can-can dancer, La Goulue and her friend are fixing their hairstyles in the mirror. The walls in the background are covered with mirrors which give the appearance of a flickering green surface, mottled with brown. Mirrors reflect the vibrancy that goes on in the scene. Even though this is a crowd scene, each figure is highly individualised. There’s a diagonal orange line in the lower left corner, a hint of Japanese Ukiyo-e style unsymmetrical compositions. The most interesting part of the painting is the lower right corner which shows a woman, an English dancer named May Milton whose face is garishly green from the lights below. Her bright yellow hair enhances the contrast. Again a hint of Ukiyo-e prints; the composition cuts her face and torso, which leaves us with a sense of incompleteness, and fires our imagination.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

9 Jul

I’ve been enchanted and intrigued by Toulouse-Lautrec’s work ever since I’ve first set my eyes on his painting Salon Rue des Moulins. His usage of vivid colours and theatrical approach to subjects created elegant, exciting, intriguing and provocative images depicting the decadency of late nineteenth century Parisian artistic community Montmarte.

1894. Salon Rue des moulins  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, pastel

Henri, already drawn to Montmarte, settled there when he started studying painting under the acclaimed portrait painter Leon Bonnat. Studying in Montmarte put Henri in the heart of this artistic community famous for its bohemian lifestyle and haunt of artists, painters, philosophers and writers. Henri rarely left Montmarte for the next twenty year and he met other interesting artists there as well, forming a lifelong friendship with painters Emile Bernard and Van Gogh. In 1882. he moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon, after his previous patron Bonnat took a new job. Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and Henri spoke English well enough to be able to travel to London. There he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde was imprisoned, Henri supported him and painted a portrait of him.

Throughout his career, which spanned less than twenty year, Lautrec created more than 700 canvases and numerous watercolours, prints and posters, drawings and an unknown number of lost works. Though Henri was a Post-Impressionistic painter, his debt to Impressionists, particularly more figurative ones such as Manet and Degas, is evident in his paintings. Parallels between Degas’ theatre scenes and Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is evident in Henri’s work. Still, Post-Impressionism developed from the Impressionism, and the roots of this late nineteenth centruy French avant-garde is in the painting The Luncheon on the grass by Manet.

His work is particularly interesting for its detailed depiction of people in their working environment; courtesans, bars, theatres, dances and plein-air scenes; night life of Montmarte striped of its glamour and presented in a realistic but exciting way. His paintings seem more like drawings with visible brush strokes and clear contour lines; the latter being the reason of his detailed depiction of people on the paintings (at that time, individuals were recognised on the paintings because of the contour lines.) Many of his work can be described as drawings in coloured paint. I love Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s work because it’s like a window to late nineteenth century lives of the artists from Montmarte bohemian community. Lautrec’s paintings are realistic while dreamy, elegant and sentimental at the same time. His paintings capture the vibrant and decadent spirit of society during the fin de siècle and stand as a statement to the century that had started with Napoleonic wars, evolved from Romanticism with Victor Hugo, Realism with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Baudelaire and Rimbaud’s Symbolism and Impressionism to Lautrec as a final dot on the canvas of the nineteenth century in France.

1895. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec captures the vibrant and decadent spirit of society during the fin de siècle

1895. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge

1894. The Medical Inspection at the Rue des Moulins Brothel - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1894. The Medical Inspection at the Rue des Moulins Brothel

1889. La Toilette - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1889. La Toilette

1893. Prostitutes - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1893. Prostitutes

1893-95. Ces dames au réfectoire - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1893-95. Ces dames au réfectoire

However, Henri was an alcoholic for most of his adult life. He drowned his sorrows, concerns and humiliation in absinth, as did many artists of his time. In 1893. alcohol began to take its toll, and, in addition, rumours circulated that he had contracted syphilis. Henri died in September 1901, less than two months away from his thirty seventh birthday. A painter of the Parisian night life, famous illustrator, inventor in usage of perspectives, a magician with lines and colours, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the man who painted the French la Belle Epoque. If David Bailey is called the man who shot the 1970s, than I say that Toulouse-Lautrec is the man who painted the 1890s.