Fans of artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec may recognize his poster at left. But they may not know the woman in the poster or what her story is.
La Goulue was the stage name of Louise Weber, the outrageous dance hall queen of Montmartre, Paris in the late 1800s. At age 16, she worked in a laundry mat and began dancing by wearing to the dance halls garments left for cleaning. She quickly drew attention to herself by dancing on tables, displaying the heart embroidered on her underwear, removing men's hats with her toes and drinking everyone under the table.
One of the men La Goulue attracted was the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir. Renoir introduced her to nude modeling, and through these connections she found her way into the fashionable dance clubs of Montmartre.
Once at Montmarte, she danced the chahut (a form of the can can) with her lanky partner Jacques Renaudin. She was the subject of many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters and drawings, including the "Moulin Rouge - La Goulue". Soon a wealthy woman with a home in Montmartre and a carriage of her own, she considered herself very much the reigning queen of Paris.
But her fall was as spectacular as her rise. (Stay tuned for part 2.)