Goulue, La (1869–1929)

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Goulue, La (1869–1929)

French cancan dancer at the Moulin Rouge who served as a model for artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Born Louise Weber in 1869; died in Paris in 1929; daughter of a cab driver.

The comely daughter of a cab driver, Louise Weber rose from obscurity to become La Goulue (Greedy Gal), celebrated cancan dancer at the famous Moulin Rouge and one of Paris' last great courtesans. Sadly, her glittering lifestyle was not an easy one to sustain.

In her heyday, La Goulue captured the imagination of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who made her the subject of some of his most famous cabaret posters. He also painted some show curtains for her, which, left in a barn to rot, were later found, cut into salable sections and sold to the Louvre. The museum reassembled and restored them for exhibition. When not performing, La Goulue had rooms at a fashionable private hotel on the Avenue du Bois, once inhabited by her famous predecessor, Païva , mistress of Napoleon III. "It was here," writes Janet Flanner , "that La Goulue was invited to dance before a gentleman who afterward literally covered her with banknotes and turned out to be the Grand Duke Alexis."

La Goulue's downfall began with a jail sentence for some unnamed crime, after which she became a lion-tamer in a street fair. Later, she was a dancer in a traveling show, then a laundress, "then she became nothing," writes Flanner, as her final years were spent in an alcoholic daze on the Paris streets. Her last appearance was in a documentary film about the rag-pickers of Paris, called The Zone, in which she danced drunkenly. In a tipsy interview for the weekly Vu, she recalled her son who died in a gambling den and her affair with the Grand Duke Alexis. A few weeks later, she died alone and destitute in a city clinic, "murmuring, as if declining a last and eternal invitation," writes Flanner, "'I do not want to go to hell.'"


Flanner, Janet. Paris Was Yesterday. NY: Viking, 1972.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts