image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891

One evening in December 1891, about three thousand copies of this poster—Lautrec’s initial foray into lithography—were pasted on walls across Paris. Critics and the general public alike were struck by the poster’s modern sensibility; it includes bold colors, a variety of lettering styles, and innovative use of silhouettes. The poster advertises the Moulin Rouge dance hall and its featured performer La Goulue (the Greedy One or the Glutton), so named for her voracious appetite for all things sensual. By advertising a specific celebrity rather than anonymous beauties, Lautrec infused his poster with star power. The poster created a sensation, and fueled the popularity of both La Goulue and Lautrec.

Despite the fame of this poster, its genesis remains unclear. The owner of the Moulin Rouge, Charles Zidler, may have approached Lautrec directly, or Lautrec may have won a competition. It is also uncertain who first introduced Lautrec to the medium of lithography, although the artist Pierre Bonnard is often mentioned as a possibility. It is known, however, that Lautrec was well aware of the lithograph that Jules Chéret had created as the first poster advertising the Moulin Rouge. Chéret, the so-called “father of the modern poster, depicted anonymous, flirtatious women — known as chérettes—Lautrec’s later, more modern one.

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