The graceful, melancholy dancer of the Moulin Rouge
When Louise Weber (La Goulue) left the Moulin Rouge, it didn't take long for a new dancer to take the spotlight. Graceful, refined and melancholy, Jane Avril was the polar opposite of the boisterous Weber.
Jane Avril never seemed destined for greatness. She was born out of wedlock, and her father abandoned her and her mother. Her mother beat her cruelly, so she ran away. At age 16 she was imprisoned in a lunatic asylum.
Jane Avril - 1899
by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
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But Jane was popular with the nuns who cared for her. At a party she charmed them with a flair for dancing. Convinced that the girl was not mad at all, the nuns released her. She soon found Paris and the Moulin Rouge.
As a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, her costumes were unique. Even when dancing, she always wore a hat. Combined with a pearl-gray or black skirt, her clothes were said to give the impression of a pale, delicate flower. She invented her own light, supple dance steps, somehow mingling prudery with provocation.
Though she drew attention from all, she was a loner at heart and some of Lautrec's many paintings of her show a detached, even sad, woman.
The birth of a son in 1910 ended Jane's dancing career. She married the painter Maurice Biais and left Paris. At his death she found herself penniless.
She only returned to Paris once after that, at the age of 73 in the war year 1941. Her admirers had tracked her down for a celebratory "grand finale." Even at that age, she improvised a graceful dance.
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