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At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance

1889-1890
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864 - 1901

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was among the first customers of the Moulin Rouge, a Montmartre nightclub boasting nightly performances of the cancan (or chahut, a French dance involving a series of titillating high kicks). Lautrec began this canvas—one of the largest and most ambitious of his career—shortly after the venue opened in October 1889. A handwritten inscription on its back, probably by Lautrec, identifies the subject as "the training of the new girls by Valentin ‘the Boneless.’" A nightclub star renowned for his flexibility, Valentin is depicted as a slender hatted figure with pointed toes and rubbery legs facing a female partner whose animated kicks reveal her red stockings and frothy white petticoats. Highlighting an informal moment between performances, the painting offers a survey of the club’s clientele and its scintillating entertainment. It was purchased by the owners of the Moulin Rouge, who hung it above the bar.

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Object Details
Joseph Oller, Paris, 1890, until at least 1893. With Paul Rosenberg, Paris [1]; S. Sévadjian; his sale, [as M. S... S...], Hôtel Drouot, March 22, 1920, no. 17; purchased by Arnold Seligmann of Arnold Seligmann & Cie., Paris, until at least 1925 [2]. Possibly with Paul Rosenberg, c.1926 [3]; with Arnold Seligmann & Cie., Paris, by 1928, to 1934 [4]; Seligmann estate, as of February 1934 [5]; sold to Henry P. McIlhenny, Philadelphia (possibly via Jacques Seligmann & Co.), by June 1934 [6]; bequest to PMA, 1986.1. Per M. G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son oeuvre, vol. 2, New York, 1971, no. P.361. Oller and Charles Zidler were co-owners of the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Zidler, the Moulin Rouge director, placed the painting on permanent exhibit there from 1890-1893. See Richard Thomson, Toulouse-Lautrec (exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, 1991), pp. 229, 246. 2. Clipping (Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot) and annotation in Getty copy of sale catalogue. Arnold Seligmann was the lender to the exhibition Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, "Cinquante ans de peinture française, 1875-1925," May 28-July 12, 1925, no. 77.3. Rosenberg is listed as the owner in Maurice Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901, Paris, 1926, p. 268. Possibly a mistake based on Rosenberg's earlier ownership, as Seligmann is documented as owner in 1925 and from 1928-1934. 4. Seligmann loaned the painting to a 1928 Paris exhibition (see also partial label on reverse). 5. The painting was lent by the Seligmann estate to the exhibition "Paintings and Drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec," London, M. Knoedler & Co., February 1-21, 1934.6. McIlhenny lent the painting to the PMA in June 1934. He writes in a letter to Martin Birnbaum dated July 17, 1934 (copy in curatorial file) that he had recently acquired the painting from the estate of Arnold Seligmann. In a letter to his insurance agent dated May 6, 1935 (copy in curatorial file), McIlhenny states that the painting was purchased from the dealer Jacques Seligmann (the firm founded by Arnold Seligmann's brother, who died in 1923), who presumably acquired it from the Arnold Seligmann estate.
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