A Flashback to Moulin Rouge’s Heyday

Moulin Rouge, or “Red Windmill,” is the most famous cabaret in the world and one of the most prominent symbols of France. It is best known for its flamboyant shows, which were inspired by the circus. The birthplace of the high-energy and physically demanding can-can dance first opened its doors on October 6th, 1889, at the foot of Montmartre hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, under the management of French impresario Charles Zidler and Spanish entrepreneur Joseph Oller.

  • Ouverture du Moulin Rouge, 1889

Apart from its flashy red windmill standing out against the Parisian skyline, the eccentric establishment was widely known for the impressive mirrors and chandeliers of its interior’s dance hall, and other extravagant decorative elements, which were brightened up with light bulbs.

The Moulin Rouge also featured a gothic tower and a garden with a giant wooden elephant purchased from the Exhibition Universelle (World’s Fair) of 1900. The interior of the beast was decorated with arabesque décor and was Indian-inspired in theme. Following the spiral staircase entrance inside one of the elephant’s legs, the male-only audience could find a stage housed in its belly, where women artists performed sensual belly dances.

Moulin Rouge's wooden elephant was purchased from the Exhibition Universelle of 1900.
Moulin Rouge’s wooden elephant was purchased from the Exhibition Universelle of 1900.

Some of the great artists who have contributed to the fame of the Moulin Rouge transforming it into a Music Hall legend are Colette, Édith Piaf, Jane Avril, Jean Gabin, Le Pétomane, La Goulue, Line Renaud, Mistinguett, Valentin le Désossé, and Yves Montand.

  • Jane Avril

The strange seediness of 1890s Montmartre along with the frenetic scene of the Moulin Rouge was splendidly portrayed in French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s supercharged paintings.

"Moulin Rouge: La Goulue," a poster by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1891.
“Moulin Rouge: La Goulue,” a poster by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1891.

Montmartre, the area where the Moulin Rouge was erected, has also been the place where some of the most significant representatives of the Belle Époque worked or had set up their studios. Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, Spanish draftsman Salvador Dalí, French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French artist Edgar Degas, the founder of French Impressionist painting Claude Monet, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, were some of them.