Of all the can-can dancers in fin-de-siècle Paris, it was Jane Avril who most captured the imagination of the avant-garde.
She was intelligent, fashionable and moved easily among the artists, writers, and intellectuals of Montmartre. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was intrigued by this multifaceted woman and depicted her dozens of times in his paintings, drawings, and prints.
Avril (born Jeanne Richepin) discovered her love of dance at the Bal Bullier dance-hall and came to fame with her performances at Le Moulin Rouge.
Her distinctive costumes and elusive sensuality set her apart from the provocative girations of the typical can-can dancer, known for kicking their legs high in the air to reveal their underwear.
From dancer to muse
Avril was a friend of Toulouse-Lautrec and regularly visited his studio. His prints emphasise her reserved beauty, focusing on her elegant silhouette, serious expression, and flaming red hair.
In his depictions of Abril, Lautrec bridged the gap between popular culture and art. He presented her not only as a dancer, but also in the audience at the theatre, and examining a lithograph at a print studio.
Richard Thomson et al., Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, Washington 2005
Nancy Ireson et al., Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril. Beyond the Moulin Rouge, London 2011