Lautrec’s posters appeared in the streets, periodicals, and hands of private collectors, as French city life sought to satisfy its craving for entertainment and excitement. His Moulin Rouge – La Goulue advertises the popular dance hall and cabaret, which was constantly pushing the envelope for risqué behavior. There were no formalities or established rules of etiquette, as people could pass through at their leisure and enjoy all of the food and drink available. The dancer featured in the poster, La Goulue, was the most scandalous performer at the time, and her presence marks the first time a celebrity was used in an advertisement for promoting an entertainment spot. These large posters were displayed outside, and the tax stamp that was needed to authorize their existence proves that the business of advertising was competitive and encouraged visual originality.
Lautrec was one of the first artists to explore the visual possibilities of printmaking, and he gave his posters a style that was free from the restrictions of representation found in other areas of art. He used the commercial aspect of advertising to his advantage to produce works that would capture the attention of the ordinary passerby. An interesting and unexpected combination of colors and forms was enough to signify success, and this notion was certainly supported by the business that developed around these posters. Confetti is one of Lautrec’s most creative works, and, unlike the Moulin Rouge where he writes his full signature, it features the initials HTL as one mark, no doubt influenced by the seals found on Japanese woodblock prints.
Jane Avril was another well-known performer and spectator, and Divan Japonais features her alongside the critic Edouard Dujardin in an Asian-inspired cabaret. In all of his works, Lautrec was influenced by the flat space and compositions of Japanese woodblock prints, and here he includes Dujardin as a writer who commented on Japanese art. In fact, many famous painters, writers, and thinkers of the time were mingling in these cafe-concert settings.
Le Deuxième Volume de Bruant features the prominent singer and nightclub owner Aristide Bruant. Evidently, he was such a distinct persona that a simple back view was enough for people to recognize him. He made a successful business out of bringing the latest and most provocative street culture to his club, and appealing to every kind of taste. Among other amusing customs, he was joined by a chorus to welcome every woman into his club with “O, how pale she is.”