Louise Weber, aka la Goulue: my most inspiring French woman
This article was contributed by reader-member Gerard Lewis-Fitzgerald following a discussion in our ‘le Bulletin’ member newsletter about inspiring French women. You too can provide the occasional article or suggest article topics as a member of MyFrenchLife™ – MaVieFrançaise®.
To become a member make sure that you sign up! See the red button top right of this site.
I don’t really remember the moment when I first came across the nickname ‘la Goulue’ (or ‘the Glutton’) for Louise Weber. It could have been on a Toulouse Lautrec poster that showed the audacious Moulin Rouge dancer at the height of la Belle Époque. Or perhaps it was in the lyrics to a Roxy Music song inviting the listener to enjoy a visit to the famous cabaret:
“If you feel blue / Look through ‘Who’s Who’ / See la Goulue […]”
Cet article était écrit en français à l’origine, cliquez ici pour lire cet article en français.
Why ‘la Goulue’?
In any case, to begin with, I didn’t know what the name meant; for all I knew it was the name of a cabaret. It was only later, while I was doing some research on la Belle Époque, that I realised how wrong I was – “Ah, La Goulue is a dancer!”
Soon after, I learnt the origin of the name. It was a reference to an audacious habit Louise Weber had of downing her clients’ drinks as she passed their tables. You wouldn’t easily forget her after falling victim to that!
The stingiest clients certainly would have protested having paid a steep price for their glasses of champagne, while others would have wanted the artist to come to their tables to pinch their drinks. Louise Weber must have been immune to hangovers, seeing as she drank such intoxicating concoctions!
The life of Louise Weber
The most remarkable thing about Weber was, in my opinion, her colourful career in which she changed her profession multiple times. Born in 1866 to a Jewish family in Alsace, she worked in her mother’s launderette in Clichy. Even at the age of sixteen, wanting to be admired at the little suburban dances, she was fond of borrowing dresses from clients!
At these dances, people inevitably noticed Mademoiselle Weber. What’s more, she benefited from her ‘high society’ connections – especially the likes of dancing icons such as Grille d’égout and Céleste Mogador who kindly gave Louise dance lessons.
A most interesting career
It’s thanks to the Zidler brothers that Louise started her career in Cancan – the frenetic dance also known as le Grande Quadrille. It’s la Goulue who transformed this dance into the racy spectacle recognised today. In befriending the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Louise found another creative outlet as an artist and photographer’s model.
At the Moulin Rouge, Louise Weber met her future dance partner Jules Renaudin – nicknamed Valentin le Désossé or ‘Valentine the Boneless’, a reference to his suppleness when dancing. Lautrec painted the pair together in different posters, but Louise would ultimately steal Renaudin’s spotlight. Her name rose to the top of the bill and became synonymous with ‘Cancan’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’.
La Goulue: lion tamer and animal carer
Sadly, Louise Weber’s career declined. Following a stint as a lion tamer, and having lost her dear son, Simon-Victor, who died at the age of 27; she became ill, obese and an alcoholic.
Nevertheless, she maintained some very honourable qualities. Despite living in an old caravan near to market Saint-Ouen flea market, Louise still managed to take in old and sick circus animals, as well as many dogs and cats. Her aim was to look after them all! She was the first celebrity to take an interest in animal causes – something that reminds me of Brigitte Bardot!
Have you ever seen the Moulin Rouge? What was your favourite aspect of it? Let us know in the comments box below!
1. ‘Henri Toulouse-Lautrec: La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge (1892)’, Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de via Wikimedia
2. ‘La danse au Moulin-Rouge ou La Goulue et Valentin le désossé’, Jean Boechat via Flickr, ‘La Goulue’, Pimbrils via Wikimedia
3. ‘Moulin Rouge: La Goulue’ Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec via Wikimedia