The shameless Louise Weber
One of the first dancers who caught Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's eye was Louise Weber, nicknamed "La Goulue" (The Glutton).
Shameless and outrageous, she earned her nickname through her habit of outdrinking anyone in a bar.
Working in a laundry at age 16, she began dancing by borrowing garments left for cleaning by customers and going to the dance halls at night. 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, of course, drinking everyone under the table.
One of the men La Goulue attracted was Auguste Renoir, the painter. Renoir introduced her to nude modeling, and through these connections she found her way into the fashionable dance clubs of Montmartre.
At the Moulin Rouge, she danced with her lanky partner, Jacques Renaudin, whose skeletal frame and rubbery contortions brought him the nickname "Valentin le Desosse," (Valentin the Boneless). Lautrec immortalized these two in his most famous poster, "Moulin Rouge - La Goulue."
La Goulue was fiercely ambitious and the idea of being only one of the featured dancers at the Moulin Rouge did not suit her. After just a few years there, she left the Moulin Rouge to start her own dance hall.
But people didn't follow La Goulue, and her club was a dismal failure. She next attempted to capitalize on her fame by traveling as a belly-dancer, with her own booth, in fairgrounds. But somehow, La Goulue outside the Moulin Rouge was just not what people wanted.
Her alcoholism got worse over the years, and she got fatter and fatter. When she eventually returned to Montmartre, no one recognized her. She scraped an existence by selling peanuts, cigarettes, and matches on the streets.
On her deathbed in 1929, Weber asked a priest, "Father, will God forgive me? I am La Goulue."
Click here for more information about Lautrec's posters of La Goulue.