The seamy underside of the Parisian demimonde, populated by the singers, dancers, and patrons of Montmartre nightclubs was Toulouse–Lautrec's principal subject. Scion of one of France's great aristocratic families, Lautrec suffered physical maladies and stunted growth due to genetic factors. He was encouraged to draw during his long convalescences and permitted professional training in an academic studio, which he deserted to embrace modernism. Lautrec particularly admired Degas and emulated his unusual perspectives and gritty social realism. He mastered the new medium of color lithography and produced an impressive body of posters and printed illustrations that share the incisive linear quality of the design of this painting.
Isolated by his painful physical deformity, Lautrec became an alcoholic and a denizen of dance halls and nightclubs in Montmartre, a poor working–class neighborhood untouched by Baron Haussmann's renovations of Paris. Insight gained from his handicap and his emotional remoteness from his subjects gave his depictions special force, bitterness, and sympathy, while the artifice of his preferred settings and subjects could alter reality amusingly or grotesquely in his work. Lautrec was an observer, a voyeur rather than a participant, and alienation is endemic even in the crowded Corner of the Moulin de la Galette.