2008.487.228 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
La Goulue: Moulin Rouge, 1896, lithograph
Author: Gabrielle Boileau
Created by renowned French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Goulue: Moulin Rouge is a bold, four-color print that advertised the popular French nightclub, Moulin Rouge. Everything about the composition is designed to draw attention to the central figure of the poster, La Goulue, with much of the club being rather indistinguishable. Even the triple repetition of the nightclub’s name on the poster draws the focus down to La Goulue. In front of La Goulue, we see her regular partner, the remarkable ‘boneless’ Valentin le désossé (Jacques Renaudin), wearing his signature top hat and tails.
The play of space in the poster is highlighted by the yellow lamps, which float within the composition, giving the viewer the impression of being in a darkened nightclub, where the only lights would be on the performer. In order to further that illusion, Toulouse-Lautrec cuts off part of Valentin’s body, forcing him up to the front of the poster. This suggests to the viewer that they are actually sitting in the front row of the Moulin Rouge, watching the pair dance. In addition, the silhouetted crowd of onlookers, beautiful patterning of La Goulue’s blouse, flowing lines and simplified forms—all devices that Lautrec borrowed from Japanese ukiyo-e prints—help to complete the picture.
With the rise of the new middle class in France during the end of the 19th century, advertisers began to see an opportunity to reduce business costs by increasing sales and creating desire in consumers. The owners of the Moulin Rouge sought a unique way to advertise the nightclub and boost its then-stagnating profits. In an effort to do that, they hired Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a famous Parisian painter to create the La Goulue: Moulin Rouge poster. No fewer than 3,000 copies of La Goulue: Moulin Rouge were displayed in the streets of Paris in December of 1891. This advertisement made Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec famous overnight and he quickly came to be seen as one of the greatest print designers of all time. In creating this print, Toulouse-Lautrec unwittingly spurred something rather revolutionary for his time with this poster: he brought high art to the world of common advertising, allowing the masses to view the same artwork as the wealthy.
Due to the exponential success of La Goulue: Moulin Rouge, many companies in France began to follow the Moulin Rouge’s lead and hire famous artists to create advertisements for them. With the development of the print as a modern form of advertising, companies were able to better reach and entice a much larger pool of potential customers. As a result, the democratization of fine art through advertising mediums revolutionized the commercial shopping industry of the early 20th century, and led to a pre-war economic boom for France.
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