In Paris during the opening year of this famous dance hall, Arthur Melville made some extraordinary watercolours of the Moulin Rouge in a small sketchbook. Although based in London at the time, this Scottish artist had previously studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he was introduced to the work of the Impressionists.
During his time in France, Melville became familiar with new methods of watercolour and began to experiment with the medium. He achieved the transition from yellow to blue pigment by working directly onto wet paper and allowing areas of colour to bleed together. Unusual for the time in its abstraction, this piece might be understood as a comment on coloured electric lighting, and is perhaps the artist's response to the replacement of gas with electrically-lit interiors.
Melville made this sketch during his 1889 trip to Paris to see the Exposition Universelle. He was accompanied by fellow artists James Guthrie, Edward Arthur Walton and John Singer Sargent. The artists frequented the newly opened Moulin Rouge dance hall, and Melville made a number of studies of the dancers in his sketchbook. He has quickly captured the scene using a few rapid brushstrokes, producing an almost abstract composition. Areas of wet, running washes suggest the colours of the dancer’s bright tulle petticoats illuminated by footlights.
Melville's travels in Europe and the Middle East inspired his vibrant paintings in oil and watercolour. He developed a distinctive technique of watercolour painting, described as 'blottesque', using dabs of pigment on wet paper and blotting them with a sponge. Melville, born in Angus, studied painting in Edinburgh before moving to Paris in 1878. He gravitated to the artists' colony in Grez-sur-Long and sold the paintings he produced there to finance his journeys from North Africa to India. From around 1884 he worked closely with several of the Glasgow Boys in Scotland and in London, before his untimely death from typhoid.