A dancer kicks her right foot high, petticoats swirling, while the crowd, silhouetted against the low gaslight of the dance hall, forms a circle around her. Moulin Rouge, La Goulue was commissioned for the Moulin Rouge—a newly opened cabaret that aspired to be the most luxurious nightspot in Paris—and features a well-known cancan dancer whose stage name was La Goulue, or “the glutton”: Louise Weber, a laundress who had left the countryside to seek fame and fortune in the city.
This was the first poster by Toulouse-Lautrec, and it marked the start of his meteoric rise to recognition as one of the most innovative and influential printmakers of the late nineteenth century. The lithograph is ambitiously large—so big that it had to be printed on three separate sheets of paper—and compositionally audacious, using the white of the paper, essentially an unprinted, blank area, to serve as the central form of La Goulue’s skirts. Moulin Rouge, La Goulue is also a group portrait of Paris’s famed demimonde, the society of fringe celebrities whose various members, such as the dancer Jane Avril, the hostess Misia Natanson, and man-about-town William Warrener (all subjects in Toulouse-Lautrec’s other work), are identifiable, even as silhouettes, by their distinctive hats.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)