The Moulin Rouge cabaret is surrounded by a haze of timeless glamour. People have always sought entertainment, of course, but this particular time and place, the Montmartre in Paris at the turn of the last century, represents a turning point, a transition between the modern and the ancient, liberation and burlesque, passion and death. A historic and unique meeting place arose here, attracting aristocrats and have-nots alike. What made this come to pass right then, and right there, was a handful of coincidences and the acts of a few individuals. Two of the people involved were artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and dancer and entertainer Jane Avril (1868–1943). They were both receptive to the feverish mood of the day, and became good friends as a result of their openness to and interest in new art movements.
This poster from 1899 is their last hurrah of sorts, the swan song of two individuals who have forever left their mark on Paris’s image as a happy, free place. Lautrec would die of illness and alcoholism just a short while later at the age of 37. During his brief life, he managed not only to apply his intense vision to the recording of a legendary and dynamic age for prosperity, but also to radically alter the path of art history. His mastery, and his significance, is beyond question today. But who was Jane Avril? Her story is fascinating, too.
She ran away from home when she was still a girl, to escape difficult circumstances growing up with a single mother. Due to a hereditary neurological disorder, she ended up at La Salpêtrière, where she was treated in accordance with the medical practices of the day.