Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge (1892–95) features the Who’s Who of the Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1889. Jane Avril—the celebrated cancan dancer and star of many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s works—sits facing away from the viewer, her red hair shining; a popular performer named La Goulue (“The Glutton”), known for chugging patrons’ drinks, checks her hair in a mirror; the artist himself, standing a foot shorter than his cousin next to him, sulks in the background. The canvas is dominated, though, by the cropped face of another dancer, May Milton.
“I paint things as they are. I don’t comment,” Toulouse-Lautrec once said. In the harsh glow of the artificial lights, Milton’s face is a deep, jarring shade of green. Electric lighting changed the color, depth, the texture of the scene, just as it changed the color, depth, and texture of Paris.