Best known by her stage name, La Goulue (the Glutton), Louise Weber was one of the biggest stars of fin de siècle Paris, renowned as a cancan dancer at the Moulin Rouge. The subject of numerous paintings and photographs, she became an iconic figure of modern art. Her life, however, has consistently been misrepresented and reduced to a footnote in the stories of men such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Where most accounts dismiss her rise and fall as brief and rapid, the truth is that her career as a performer spanned five decades, during which La Goulue constantly reinvented herself—as a dancer, animal tamer, sideshow performer, and muse of photographers, painters, sculptors, and filmmakers.

With Beyond the Moulin Rouge, the first substantive English-language study of La Goulue’s career and posthumous influence, Will Visconti corrects persistent myths. Despite a tumultuous personal life, La Goulue overcame loss, abusive relationships, and poverty to become the very embodiment of nineteenth-century Paris, fêted by royalty and followed as closely as any politician or monarch.

Visconti draws on previously overlooked materials, including medical records, media reports across Europe and the United States, and surviving pages from Louise Weber’s diary, to trace the life and impact of a woman whose cultural significance has been ignored in favor of the men around her, and who spent her life upending assumptions about gender, morality, and domesticity in France during the fin de siècle and early twentieth century.

Peculiar Bodies: Stories and Histories