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Arthur Melville

Dancers at the Moulin Rouge

This fascinating impression of dancers in line on the stage of the Moulin Rouge recreates the fast movement of the dance called the ‘can-can'. Although the mingling of black and white appears abstract at first glance, the black stockings of the dancers are suggested by lines of watery pigment. Dabs of white describe the full petticoats revealed underneath the dancers' dresses as they move the gathered fabric from side to side to kick their legs up high.

Although pre-dating the Moulin Rouge, the ‘can-can' became representative of the scene there, made famous by the paintings and promotional posters of the French artist Toulouse-Lautrec. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the British increasingly viewed French culture as the height of modern extravagance, which was probably part of its appeal to young British artists working in Paris.

  • Credits Purchased 1995
  • Medium Watercolour on paper
  • Size 9.20 x 15.10 cm


The ‘Can-can’ was initially performed by men and women, although it is now mostly associated with female chorus-lines. ‘Can-can’ routines famously featured suggestive gestures and high-kicking, together with the manipulation of skirts to reveal stockings, tops of legs and buttocks.