The Moulin Rouge may be best known as a Parisian tourist attraction and the inspiration for film and stage blockbusters, but what about one of its greatest stars, Louise Weber, otherwise known as La Goulue (The Glutton).
A new book, Beyond the Moulin Rouge: The Life & Legacy of La Goulue, debunks persistent myths about the Frenchwoman’s rapid rise to fame and exposes the dark side of her celebrity.
Using previously ignored sources including Weber’s diary and police records, Author Dr Will Visconti, a lecturer in the University of Sydney’s Department of Art History, found that she turned to performing as an escape from poverty. Her sassy persona endeared her to royalty, artists, and international audiences who either flocked to Paris or saw her during international tours.
“The rest of her life beyond the few years she was at the Moulin Rouge remain either unknown or misunderstood. After leaving the Moulin, she became an independent performer, appearing as a belly-dancer, animal-tamer, and sideshow performer, in a career that spanned five decades.”
Being cheeky and fiery was key to her survival and success
Dr Visconti says that Louise Weber was engaged to dance at the Moulin Rouge specifically because she was already famous. “She performed at multiple venues across Paris, but thanks to her immortalisation by artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, dancing the cancan at the Moulin is what is most recognisable.”
Throughout her life she also had to deal with significant personal and professional setbacks. A survivor of domestic violence, Weber battled sordid press coverage whilst being the primary breadwinner for her family. She even pressed charges against her abusers at a time when women were legally classed as minors.
“Whatever happened, La Goulue always maintained a fearless, irreverent outlook. Being cheeky and fiery was key to her survival and success,” Dr Visconti said.
Dr Visconti is an expert on nineteenth-century Parisian art and life. Beyond the Moulin Rouge: The Life & Legacy of La Goulue is published by the University of Virginia Press and is available for purchase.