Saturday, August 30, 2008

La Goulue and the CanCan at Le Moulin Rouge - Louise Weber (1866-1929)

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec - Poster for Le Moulin Rouge and La Goulue (1891)

YouTube is truly an amazing resource!

I was playing round with things like 'Le Moulin Rouge' and 'cancan' and up came three clips (from andrasmblack, arbrerouge7 and gazabo) about Louise Weber - the famed La Goulue. Each with footage of this famed identity in middle age, executing a few dance steps.

La Goulue c1910

Dubbed 'La Goulue' (The Glutton) for her habit of downing the drinks off tables as she danced past, Louise Weber was THE cancan dancer of Le Moulin Rouge, and the highest-paid performer of her day.

Perhaps Jewish and from L'Alsace, Louise Weber settled into the Paris suburb of Clichy, and began working in a laundry with her mother. Even at 16 she revealed her daring - borrowing clothes put in for cleaning to go to the dance halls at night.

There she met Auguste Renoir, who introduced her to nude modeling for artists and for photographers such as Achille Delmaet ...

... and from there she found her way into the dance clubs and halls of Montmartre.

Immortalized by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ...

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec 'La Goulue arriving at Le Moulin Rouge' (1892)

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec 'La Goulue and Valentin' 1895

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec 'La Goulue'

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and la Goulue at Le Moulin de la Galette

... this vibrant, audacious and gutsy sensualist would high-kick the hats off male customers' heads with a toe during her routine, ...

... dance on the table tops, and flash a red heart embroidered on her under garments.

She formed a dance partnership at Le Moulin Rouge' with Jacques Renaudin (1843–1907), a wine merchant who danced under the name of Valentin le Désossé or Valentin the Boneless. Doing the 'chalut', an early version of the cancan.

This footage of La Goulue around 1910 is touching for a number of reasons.

Determined to capitalize on her considerable fame, she broke with Le Moulin Rouge in 1895 to set up her own dance hall ...

Barraca de La Goulue, la nº 10 de la Feria del Trono de 1895

... and when this venture failed, she traveled about fairgrounds as a belly dancer, with her own booth ...

... only to fail again, and end her days in alcoholic destitution. Hinted at in the clips by her being reduced to a caravan home and torn and mended garments.

It's impossible not to respond to her efforts re-capture some of the vitality and abandon of her Moulin Rouge days. There is still some of the delicious and vigorous fluidity and the rhythmic abandon, but in the gentler mode of old age. And still the beautiful placement of body, arms and legs.

Like in a creaky old melodrama, La Goulue was finally reduced to support herself selling peanuts, cigarettes and matches - unrecognized and on a street corner near the Moulin Rouge!


  1. I suppose this must be a post intended for the ones who still *do* have a an organ between theyr ears - a fully functional one, I mean.

    None of my Parisian "trips" ever made me think Toulouse L was more than a bad sketcher, the Moulin Rouge a cheap hetero-slutty-pickup-site or anything French circa la belle époque anything other than decadent sans elegance.

    I feel almost certain I am missing something here but somehow I don't think it's something I would be captivated by in any case.

    Nice fucking post, btw ;)

  2. I can understand how tragic/sad ger life is. I simply can't relate to it. I didn't mean to be offensive. Guess I just need to practise my cancan and forget my own grudges against all things remotely parisian, right?


  3. yeap, the organ-between-your-eyes species are becoming endangered! somehow the whole moulin rouge/montmartre/post impressionist thing/late C19 has captured my imagination - got me by the knackers. maybe it's the french background thing for me. and there even used to be a restaurent in the area ('chartier' - have put their menu on my blog homepage) that i used to go to when i lived in paris - it was an old converted library with all the old fittings in place - the catalogue drawers still filled with index cards. all to feed my imagination! each to his/her own of course. a big one (or 20) - nick

  4. BTW, the driving force behind the post was the absolute blast of seeing actual footage of legendary la goulue - amazing (for me!)

  5. hey peter. yeah, i think once you get your legs up in the air (not necessarily wearing your ankles as earrings tho) youmight get the whole paris/moulin rounge/la goulue thing! or not, as you like. i think we each have some period or scene that gets our imagination. do you have something that particularly arrests you?

  6. hey tom. thanks - hope as much fun as it was to put it together. cya. nick

  7. As I've said many times before--this is facinating. Wit.

  8. hey wit. good to hear from you again. yep, la goulue is fascinating - to the extent that i realize it's a golden opportunity for a film/novel/biography/something - in face i googeled a film out - made in the 50's based on her story. but time for a re-do in some form or other! i read of people being inspired to do something from a photo or an image - like henry james finding 'portrait of a lady' in a single shadowy image of a woman. keep in touch. nick

  9. Nick--What a great idea!!! A film of her life! Oscar material. Take care. Wit.

  10. hey wit - good to hear again. yep, i'm surprised that nothing much has been done before. i guess it is an anglo latin divide thing - all that english-french animosity - to me inexplicable but then i'm from the land of Oz. nick