Born on November 24, 1864, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was renowned for his posters and portraits advertising the Moulin Rouge, the legendary Parisian nightclub. Although he painted many of the club’s dancers and performers, he was especially fond of an orange-haired dancer named Jane Avril. As a teenager, Avril was diagnosed with chorea, a nervous condition that caused “involuntary muscular movements”; she discovered that dancing both exhilarated and calmed her.
Newspapers described Avril as dancing “like orchids in a frenzy,” as evident in Lautrec’s La Troupe de Mlle Eglantine, where Avril can be identified on the left by her gaunt face and cocked leg. Lautrec and Avril formed a steady and close friendship, and Lautrec would paint her many times; she even appears in the background of his iconic Le Divan Japonais . Paul Leclercq, a writer and friend of Lautrec’s, once described the dancer: “In the midst of the crowd, there was a stir, and a line of people started to form: Jane Avril was dancing, twirling, gracefully, lightly, a little madly; pale, skinny, thoroughbred, she twirled and reversed, weightless, fed on flowers; Lautrec was shouting out his admiration.”