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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance, 1890

About the Artwork

A recently discovered penciled inscription, in the artist's hand, on the back of this famous painting reads: "The instruction of the new ones by Valentine the Boneless." Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was thus not depicting an ordinary evening at the Moulin Rouge, the fashionable Parisian nightclub but rather a specific moment when a man now known only by his nickname (which certainly describes his nimbleness as a dancer) appears to be teaching the "can-can." Many of the inhabitants of the scene are well-known members of Lautrec's demimonde of prostitutes and artists and people seen only at night including the white-bearded Irish poet William Butler Yeats who leans on the bar. One of the mysteries, however, is the dominant woman in the foreground, the beauty of her profile made all the more so in comparison with that of her chinless companion. It is the latter who expresses better than nearly any other character in this full stage of people Lautrec's profoundly touching ability to be brutally truthful but also truly kind in his observations. Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 206

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