She was dubbed ‘La Goulue’ or The Glutton for her habit of downing the drinks off tables as she danced past. This vibrant, audacious and gutsy sensualist would high-kick the hats off male customers’ heads with a toe during her routine. And dance on the table tops, and flash a red heart embroidered on her under garments.
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 of put in for cleaning to go to the dance halls at night.
There she met Auguste Renoir, who introduced her to nude modelling for artists and for photographers such as Achille Delmaet, and from there she found her way into the dance clubs and halls of Montmartre. She was immortalised by in lithographs and paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
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.
Determined to capitalise on her considerable fame, La Goulue broke with Le Moulin Rouge in 1895 to set up her own dance hall, and when this venture failed, she travelled about fairgrounds as a belly dancer, with her own booth (Barraca de La Goulue). She failed again, and end her days in alcoholic destitution, reduced to support herself selling peanuts, cigarettes and matches – unrecognised and on a street corner near the Moulin Rouge!
Apart from her representations in art, Louise Weber is know today through restaurants round the world bearing the name ‘La Goulue’, from Paris to the Upper East Side in New York to Sydney.
Louise Weber was filmed in older age – firstly, sprooking the crowd at her fair booth, ‘La Barraca de La Goulue’, using a monkey in a cage, and secondly, on the steps of her derelict caravan home, chatting to a friend of times long gone and then dancing a few of the steps that made her fame at Le Moulin Rouge.
Watching this tiny second clip, it’s impossible not to respond to her efforts re-capture some of the vitality and abandon of her Can Can 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.