1891, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 - 1901)
colour lithograph on paper,
201 cm x 123.5 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (State of the Netherlands)
No fewer than 3,000 copies of this advertisement for the Moulin Rouge were displayed in the streets of Paris in December 1891. The poster made Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec famous overnight and he quickly came to be seen as one of the greatest print designers of all time.
Here he depicts two artistes who performed regularly at the famous nightclub. The woman kicking her leg in the air is La Goulue (‘Glutton’), a celebrated cancan dancer who owed her nickname to the gusto with which she approached everything, from eating and drinking to dancing. Her dance partner in the top hat is Valentin le Déssossé (‘Valentin the Boneless’), so called because of his supple moves. Lautrec presents them here as caricatures, with exaggerated facial features and poses.
The abruptly cropped silhouettes of Valentin and the audience add to the dynamism of the composition. The deep black, the bright, solid colours and the playful typography also help make this a masterpiece. The poster is large and had to be printed in three parts. This copy is unusual in that it is still intact: the upper band, including a large part of the words ‘Moulin Rouge’ is often missing.