The Ghost’s Appeal: Man’s Interest in the Superficial in Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin-Rouge

The Ghost’s Appeal: Man’s Interest in the Superficial in Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin-Rouge

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The Ghost’s Appeal: Man’s Interest in the Superficial in Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin-Rouge

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous painting, At the Moulin-Rouge, combines striking coloring with abnormal lighting to create a work that addresses men’s superficial interest in women. The dark scene depicted in the painting includes ten people scattered about a restaurant. In the center, two women and three men sit casually around a table while the background portrays two men and a woman peering into mirrors; a second woman (in the foreground) observes the situation. The most arresting aspect of the picture is the dominating, pale face of a woman in the right foreground of the picture. A careful analysis of the painting begins with the study of the portrayal of the brightly-lit women and how the men’s gazes focus that representation and concludes with the viewer’s natural confirmation of that portrayal. This textual look at the picture leads the viewer to the conclusion that it is a woman’s external pomp that attracts a male.

Because of Toulouse-Lautrec’s use of lighting, it is clear that the women are central to the painting. Despite the intermixing of men and women, the light falls only on the women, and the men are left in the shadows. Because of this, the eye wanders, not to the men, but to the women; thus, they become the subject of the painting. While this lighting does not appear unnatural, it is far from the customary distribution of light. Hence, the lighting of the women is an intentional attempt to focus the observer on them. Clearly, the objective of At the Moulin-Rouge centers on women.

Having established that the females are integral to the work, it is interesting to see how the illumination reveals more about th...


... middle of paper ...


...illed with interesting scenes, people, and ideas, has a distinct theme that emerges by looking at both the women and their male counterparts. From their similarities to actresses to their depiction as ghosts, Toulouse-Lautrec’s women are superficial. It is the men’s obsession with this, however, that reveals the work’s complete theme. Namely, that it is the outward grandeur of a woman that charms men. This point is brought close to home as the viewer realizes that he joins the men in the painting with the same curious interest in the superficial. Toulouse-Lautrec’s masterpiece brings the theme of superficiality’s appeal full-circle by engulfing both the subjects and the audience.

NOTES

*At the time, "fl‰neur" described the rich, male population that had time to observe and appreciate art. Artists of the day knew that their audience consisted largely of fl‰neurs.

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