A Visual Interpretation of Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rogue”

The painting “At the Moulin Rouge” by Lautrec gives me a feeling of gaudiness and activity as I look at it.  It shows the diverse kinds of activities done in the Moulin Rogue; however, it seems to lack the glamour and fanciness of a typical night club.

Even the faces of the women, who I assume are hospitality girls, as is normal in a nightclub, lack luster, instead they are painted using pale colors; the blue hints on the face of the woman on the right even leads me to think that the woman is sickly.

Noticeable also are the expressions in the faces of the people.  As opposed to the excitement that would be expected in the faces of people who go our partying in the evening, the faces in the painting seem to show a certain level of dissatisfaction, misery, or boredom.  Even the smile of the woman on the right side seems to be forced.

The dominance of earth colors and faded hues in the painting give the viewer a feeling of tiredness and gloom.  The colors seem to make the painting drab instead of what it is supposed to be as a painting of a club where people frequent in the evenings for drinks.  These are not the kinds of colors that one would normally see in a night club – even so, if it is set during an early period where people would most likely be more flamboyant as compared to party-goers of today.

There is also a lack of light in the painting; despite the consideration that this is a night club and it opens in the evenings, it is strange that the light sources in the painting seem to be diffused or faded.  The colors and the lighting in the painting give me an overall feeling of monotony and blandness, like when you taste a piece of cake and it is not as sweet as expected despite the visual appearance of the cake.

If I was to take notice of composition in the painting, the elements are quite scattered, perhaps to give the viewer a feeling of activity.  However, there are certain portions of the painting where sight is drawn towards, like the central portion which shows a group of people gathered around a table and looking down on the table, probably at cards (for gambling), and the lady at the right side of the painting.

These elements of the composition that grab my sight were probably put there to emphasize what these elements denote.

As mentioned earlier, the feeling that I get when I see the face of the lady is one of illness and a forced sense of joy, so the painter must have wanted the viewer to feel these emotions which is why he emphasized the element in the first place by putting it in a composition hotspot.  The central table also has the same effect of drawing the viewer towards that area of the painting, which shows, as well the pale faces of the people and the pensive moods that they are in.

There is a dominance of curved lines in the picture as clearly shown by the backrest of the chair, the borders of the dresses of the ladies, and the outlines of the glasses and the bottles; this particular dominance of curved lines gives the painting a sluggish feel.

As would normally be done, curved lines are usually used to invoke grace and softness, but in the painting these lines, in combination with the other elements somehow convey the feeling of lethargy to the viewer – that although there is activity in the Moulin Rogue, the people participating in the activity seem to be tired of what they are doing, or perhaps tired of something else which is why they waste their time in a pub.

It also gives me the feeling that the people in the painting have been doing what they are supposedly doing in the painting for many, many times, repeatedly, and have grown exhausted of it.

In terms of contrast, the painting is apparently, intentionally blurry and grainy, again making the viewer strain hard enough when looking into the painting.

This gives me an added feeling of tiredness around the eyes, effectively conveying the physical equivalent of the abstract emotions that the painting would like to convey.  The different textures in the painting again, give me a feeling of activity, the movements, and the brushstrokes all show the repletion of activity in the painting.  So, although I feel that the painting  is about activity in the pub, it sends out a different message.

A detail to note in the painting is the sporadic clean and sharp lines on the gentlemen’s top hats.  This sets the men apart from the women, giving the viewer a sense of aggressiveness when viewing the men in the painting in particular; however, even with this particular feature, notice again that the rims of these top hats are down turned, again giving the viewer the same feeling of tiredness from the painting.

The piece, is also, in a way imbalanced, drawing the viewers sight to the right side and the center areas of the painting in particular; but perhaps the artist intended this to be to give the viewer a feeling of drowsiness or disorder; the feeling that one would get from intoxication, which also, by the way, is achieved by the bluntness in contrast, the graininess, and the noise in the painting.

Overall, the elements of color, lines, balance, contrast, and texture in the painting contribute to its general feel.  Art is always intentional and the emotions that it convey to a viewer are quite likely, the same emotions that the artist wanted to convey in the first place.

Strictly speaking though, a painting of a night club or a pub would contain a diversity of bright psychedelic colors if the norm was to be followed.  However, because perhaps the painter wanted to convey a sense of irony in the painting, the artist succeeded in using the elements of art to achieve this effect.