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Video transcript
(jazzy music) Female: If it wasn't for the long dresses and the top hats, we might mistake this for New York today at 2 AM, or Paris, or any other major city. Male: You do have this real sense that it's too late at night; maybe it's close to last call. We're in the Art Institute of Chicago and we're looking at Toulouse-Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge. This is what Toulouse-Lautrec did so well to represent Paris after dark, specifically the clubs that existed on Monte Martre, the hill just north of Paris, where artists would mingle with the lower classes in part because of the cheap rents but also because there was a kind of permissiveness. Female: The Moulin Rouge was a very popular nightclub with dancing and drinking and music. It was frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec who was really a regular there. We actually see him here in the background. He's the short figure walking with a very tall man with a top hat. Male: Even though this was seedy, even though this was really not quite proper, and probably because it wasn't quite proper, the middle class, at least the adventurous middle class, would venture into these clubs at night. Female: In terms of its composition, in terms of its treatment of space, Toulouse-Lautrec is borrowing from Degas. Male: Look, for instance, at the balustrade that begins in the bottom of the canvas and then moves up so quickly to the left. The balustrade actually separates us from this room, but it also allows our eye in. I want to go in. In fact, I want to eavesdrop on the conversation at that table. I want to find a chair and sit down. Female: I think Toulouse-Lautrec is actually setting us up for that feeling. He's divided us from that group by that balustrade, and he's created a sense of interesting conversation happening between them. They all lean in a little bit. They're all obviously a little bit drunk, but they look very engaged in conversation, which we feel we can't quite hear, perhaps because the music is a little bit too loud. Male: On the other hand, before we can possibly get to that table, we need to address the woman at the right. Female: That woman is a famous performer as is the woman with the red hair seated at the table. Male: Look at the way Toulouse-Lautrec has rendered her face. Even in Degas' work, he's often rendering ballet dancers, for example, with stage lights coming up from below, which distorts and disfigures their faces. I'm not sure that I've ever seen something quite this grotesque. Female: Electric lights were new to the Moulin Rouge. Male: Look at the way that the artist has constructed the sense of the alien, the sense of the artificial that comes from this light. It's violent. It's scary. There is this quality of caricature, yet at the same time, there's also a kind of sensitivity and a kind of humanity. The figures are specific, but there's a kind of kindness, for instance, in the man who's seated with a top hat closest to us. There is a genuine kind of camaraderie, a genuine kind of community that this artist is able to produce, even within this stark, nocturnal world. (jazzy music)