Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster of the Moulin Rouge

An advertisement for the nightclub Moulin Rouge, the poster’s true subject is the bigger-than-life ruffled derrière of one of its dancers, La Goulue! Like Zidler (owner of Moulin Rouge) will try to explain to his girls in scene 5, Toulouse-Lautrec’s work represents a drastic departure from the old Moulin Rouge poster done by Jules Cheret. In Cheret’s idealized vision, Montmartre is a happy and pretty place. But his jolly scene leaves out the one thing that mattered most in advertising: the commercial appeal of a scandal. Nowadays, Lautrec’s poster is probably just attractive to most of us. At the time though, a woman’s “flipside” was a social taboo, and parading one throughout Paris by means of advertising carts must have been close to an act of social disobedience, a full-fledged scandal in any case. The shock wave it caused saved Moulin Rouge from bankruptcy, and launched Toulouse-Lautrec’s career as a poster artist.

Lithographs and poster art (l’art de l’affiche) fascinated Toulouse-Lautrec. He made 300 lithographs, 30 of which became commercial posters. In 1999 the full size poster of Moulin Rouge sold for $241,000 US. It was the highest price ever paid for a vintage poster.

As for Jules Cheret, in spite of his defeat to Toulouse-Lautrec in the battle of the Moulin Rouge poster, he remains the inventor of the now common concept of utilizing a pretty woman to sell a product.