Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-93

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-93. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection

By elevating the point of view and catching performer May Milton as she surges past, Toulouse-Lautrec captures the unsteady excitement of a late night at the Moulin Rouge.

And unlike the paparazzi shots which litter today’s gossip pages, looking at this work leads to a feeling of inclusion. Perhaps that’s also thanks to the intoxicating shades of green.

When an art scene becomes synoymous with a nightclub, it generally reminds you just how exclusive both worlds can be. But this painting is like slipping through a post and rope barrier.

The short figure right opposite is the artist himself. Maybe that’s the price of admission, to recognise that the post-impressionist is at the centre of this work, and the centre of the world.

Never mind his achievement in painting. Just consider the disabled artist’s achievement in gaining acceptance with the beautiful people of Paris 1892, despite his ailments and appearance.

But even an artist in the right place at the right time and in the right clothes must remain something of an outsider. Hence the painting’s newly arrived viewpoint.

His depiction at the centre of a world famous club is also self-conscious. Toulouse-Lautrec is watching himself on a night out: a modern malaise he might just have invented.

This work can be seen in the UK until September 18 2011 at the Courtauld Institute, London. See gallery website for more info on their fantastic show about Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril.

Thanks for @FisunGuner for recommending this show. Her brilliant review on the arts desk will tell you more, and my own review of the entire show can be found on Culture24.

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