image: Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in 'Chilpéric' (detail), 1876/1877

The late nineteenth century was a transitional period for stage lighting. Gaslight and limelight had been used for most of the century but carried the risk of fire, as well as unpleasant odors and heat. Electric light, made possible by Thomas Edison’s invention of a practical electric lamp in 1879, offered a solution. First introduced on a Paris stage in 1882, the new lighting gradually replaced gaslight and limelight. While electric light provided a safer alternative, the rudimentary technology had not yet improved the harsh and often unflattering illumination of its predecessors, which exaggerated an aged performers’ facial characteristics.