The Moulin Rouge had opened two years earlier, in 1889, and instantly established itself as a Montmartre landmark. It was renowned for the elasticity of its young dancers, both physically and morally; police officers made periodic checks to ensure that they were all wearing underwear. However, the poster by Jules Chéret advertising the club's delights, was relatively subdued, so the director Charles Zidler hired the young (only 27 years old) Toulouse-Lautrec to create a more vibrant poster.
Although Moulin Rouge: La Goulue was Toulouse-Lautrec's first attempt at lithography, such was his grasp of the medium's possibilities that it was an immediate sensation. 3000 copies spread around Paris captivated the public with their eye-catching design, bold colors, and innovative, Japanese-inspired use of silhouettes. Cannily focusing on the dancer La Goulue, whose energetic kicks and insatiable appetites had made her famous, gave the poster an additional boost in popularity. However, it was Toulouse-Lautrec's own artistic skill that made him a star overnight.