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The Masquerade

* Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge(1892, 1895) Lautrec’s love for caricature is apparent in the figure’s rough and sketchy lines and unprimed background. Balls and café scenes have been adopted by numerous French painters, extending back to the Impressionism period when they became the dominant subject matter. Rarely one fellow French painter, however, presented a wholly endearing scene of people in their indulgence. Manet’s luminous figures belie their unbounded sexuality; Degas’ marvelous performers can hardly hide their exhaustion when off-stage; the revelers in Lautrec’s paintings, as recklessly as they can be, unreservedly trumpet their decadent lifestyle. A phlegmatic insouciance or coolly restrained emotion is not a sentiment that best sums up Lautrec’s works. The light that shines ruthlessly on the woman’s face in At the Moulin Rouge, everything within or without her is exposed, including unnervedness and fear.

A masquerade was taken place in the grand mansion of an old yet wealthy man, who planned the prodigious event merely to appease his raucously lonely soul. Myriads of townsfolk the old man had invited, with their faces ever-shielded by masks unknown whether the veneers can be sheerly fraudulent. The old man was well-aware of the plausible deception, but neither was he too keen on seeing people in their genuine selves. Anything stripping bare left a grating displeasure within him that truly bothered. An unalloyed person always inevitably welcomes with arms outstretched uncensored scrutiny. Multitudes of eyes like pieces of piercing glass, sliding down one’s body with every pore opened, every hair raised. With palpitating heart one waits, until the time the glass no longer dithers, and find a spot to be rooted, and finally to be determined.

The ballroom was walled with mirrors, as appointed by the old man, to enable the partygoers to judge their deceptions. Such design doubtlessly created illusion too, as one guest remarked by whispering to the ear of his dancing partner, that the room was huge yet packed with people ever flocking in to fill the gaps. The music played in the background, hark! did it not sound more like a marching requiem? The opulent chandelier emitted slants of variegated beams, which, with the aids of the aforementioned music generated a giddiness that made the dancers swoon, heads hung out of the shoulders like the final posture of a body under the gibbet. Some people screamed when swirling and flouncing around the ballroom. They were in their own ecstacy which words were ineffable or redundant for description.

The old man judged quietly the roaring event at a side. He himself neither engaged in any one of the dances nor put on a mask, but no one noticed it since rarely one could point out how masks were different from real flesh. The masquerade rendered the old man hard-bitten and resentful, with a fermenting rage he nursed furtively since the entrance of the guests. He at once sashayed into the circle of dances in the fashion of a professional dancer who overheard the waltz playing in his head when he walked. Keeping the action as randomly as possible, the old man tore off the mask of whoever that passed him by. Spates of shriekings and groanings occurred, punctuated by the rhythmic beats of the requiem that spurred the dancers on notwithstanding.

The old man left numerous masks and flesh trailing in his wake, like the seared leaves that suddenly fell. The old man was hardly merciful.


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