The women and men in this painting are enthusiastically dancing the chahut, or cancan, a risqué dance for that period, whereby the women lift their skirts and wave their legs in the air.
Fascinated by light
Despite the energetic subject, Le Chahut is not a fleeting scene from the Parisian nightlife, but a painstakingly deliberated painting. Seurat is fascinated by the effect of light and colour and purposefully seeks a systematic method by which to render this effect. He has captured the flamboyant dance in a strict system of countless minutely applied dots of paint, lines and colour combinations.
The dancehall is bathed in warm colours and glowing artificial light. The dancers appear more archetypes than people of flesh and blood. They move in a rhythmic repetition. All the lines and movements in the painting are directed upwards to evoke the excited atmosphere of the dance and the music: the dancers’ legs, the conductor’s hand, the men’s moustaches, the corners of the ladies’ mouths and eyes, the neck of the double bass, even the flowers in the background.