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La Goulue, queen of Montmartre

French can-can dancer at the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris

colour drawing of a dancer in a crowd of men
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

La Goulue was a French can-can dancer who was the star of the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris.

Born Louise Weber in 1866, her family were Jewish and from Alsace. They eventually moved to Paris. Aged 16, Louise was working in a laundry but sneaking to dance halls and balls behind her family's back.

She quickly became popular for dancing in clubs around Paris, particularly in the suburbs - both for her dancing skills as well as her cheeky and audicious behaviour.

black and white sepia photograph of La Goulue who poses with her hands on her hips

She got her nickname La Goulue - 'the Glutton' - because of her habit of finishing customers' drinks as she danced past their tables.

black and white photograph of La Goulue who sits at a cafe table and holds a glass of wine aloft

She soon attracted the attention of the owners of the Moulin Rouge, where she made her debut in 1891. She performed a dance like the can-can called the chahut with Jules Renaudin, a former dancer who had become a wine merchant. While both were popular figures in the club, La Goulue stole the show.

black and white sketch of a woman and man dancing

She became the permanent headliner of the club and became famous as the can-can dancer from the Moulin Rouge. She featured on many posters and memorabilia for the club, as well as beign immortalised by artists such as Toulouse Lautrec.

colour poster for the Moulin Rouge with illustration of can-can dancers, audience in silhouette and text
colour image of two women in a bar who have their backs to the viewer
colour painting of La Goulue

In 1895, having achieved fame and fortune at the Moulin Rouge, La Goulue decided to leave the club and go solo.

She decided to invest her money in a travelling fairground, where she worked as a lion tamer, amongst other things. But her new entertainment form was not as popular as her dancing and was soon closed. She then disappeared from the public eye, continuing to work in carnivals as an animal tamer.

black and white photograph of group of people including La Goulue at a fair
black and white photograph of La Goulue who is now older than previous photographs

Later in life, in Montmartre, she sells peanuts, cigarettes and matches on street corners and outside theatres. Although her physical appearance had changed greatly, she is still recognised and respected by Parisians as La Goulue, the queen of the Moulin Rouge.

black and white photograph of the grave of La Goulue

La Goulue Louise Weber died in 1928, aged 62. She was first buried in the Cimetière de Pantin, but later her remains were transferred to the Cimetière de Montmartre.