At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance (1890) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864 - 1901Philadelphia Museum of Art
Welcome to the Moulin Rouge! It's the late 1800s, the century is coming to an end, and there's luxury and debauchery all around. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's painting captures the swanky and the sordid in fin de siècle France.
In the middle of the painting, the crowded composition opens out into a lively dance-floor, with two patrons throwing the high, fast kicks of the Can-Can. Listen to Offenbach's famous 'Galop infernal' and watch the dancers go!
In the background is the chatter and clatter of drinks being ordered and served. Toulouse-Lautrec often populated his paintings with a mixture of real-life figures and strange ghostly presences. A man by the bar has an eerie green light on his face.
But the strangest guest is the skeletal figure looming spookily in the crowd. The male dancer in the mid-ground is a Moulin Rouge regular known as 'Valentine the Boneless' because of his fluid dancing. Is the skeleton reminding him that he, too, is a mere mortal, boneless or not?
Toulouse-Lautrec used color intelligently. Highlights of red, from the woman in the background through the dancer's stockings, create a sight-line drawing our eyes to the woman in pink. The hubbub seems to fade away as we see her fixed gaze, at right-angles to the action.
She is aware of the dancers and the energy of the room, but stands apart, almost 'on the surface' of the canvas. What is she thinking? It's a strange framing device, and provides a different perspective on the party.
But the party goes on nonetheless!