Historical biography Uncategorised

Dance Biographies: Call for contributors part 1

This is the first of four blogs serving as a ‘call for contributors’ that will establish a collaborative, international, project in dance biography.  Broadly, this blog series will cover female theatrical dancers active between 1680 and 1860; it will consider the development and promotion of their careers and their reputations through the media of their day. Twenty-four potential subjects are proposed – for each of these particular questions or issues are supplied that are intended to stimulate responses in the respective blogs. Images are imagined as integral to the stories being told in the blogs, and a selection is nominated for each dancer. It is hoped that the topics proposed will stimulate offers of blog posts from archivists, art historians, iconographers and musicologists as well as dance specialists.

The current list of topics has a London-Paris bias, reflecting the research interests of the editor. Further proposals, however, of additional names – including dancers who would broaden the blog’s geographic scope – are welcome. The selection of images is also open to discussion, with this limitation: this blog can only publish images that are in the public domain in the United Kingdom. There is no dedicated budget to pay for photography of images nor to secure publishing rights.

This post announces five of the proposed subjects; three or four further blogs completing this ‘call for contributors’ will appear between mid-December and mid-January 2021. The blog series proper could launch as early as March 2021 and will continue with up to two posts per month until all the posts have been published. There is no particular plan to the sequence of blogs: deadlines will be agreed individually with contributors. 

The language of the blog is English; where necessary, the editor can offer to translate posts written in French, German or Italian. Individual blogs of over 1200 words are discouraged; where required, the editor will consider dividing longer blogs into two or three parts and publishing them in sequence.

And now, to open the curtain on five of our subjects:

Marie Sallé (1709-1756)

Active in London and in Paris, this dancer is of particular interest on several fronts: for her reception as a performer, for her status as a female ‘choreographer’, and for the carefully crafted public image projected in her portraits. Two key portraits from her lifetime are selected, and a later re-striking of the Lancret. Information about the motivations behind the creation of each of these images would be particularly welcome.

Proposed IMAGES for Sallé article:

Fenouil, Paul, fl. 1740s painter, and Giles Edme Petit, 1694-1760 (engraver). ‘M’lle M’rie Sallé, la Terpsicore françoise.’ Paris, chez Petit rue St. Jacques [174-?]. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. *MGZFB Sal M P 2The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1740 – 1749.

Lancret, Nicolas, 1690-1843 (painter), and Nicolas Delarmessin, 1684-1753 (engraver). ‘Mlle. Sallé.’ Paris, 1730s. Copy: Pimpernel Prints.

Lancret, Nicolas , 1690-1843 (painter), and Hippolyte Louis Emile Pacquet, 1797- (engraver). ‘Mlle. Sallé règne de Louis XV. d’après Lancret 1730.’ [Paris] Impe. Fosset [ca. 1862]. Bureau des modes et costumes historiques, no. 58. H. Pacquet on plate. Unidentified production process after an engraving by H. Pacquet. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. *MGZFB Sal M P 1The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1862.

Mlle Auretti by an anon. artist. Copy New York Public Library.
Mlle Auretti by an unknown artist. Image: New York Public Library.

Mlles Anne & Janneton Auretti  (fl. 1742-1753)

The Mlles Auretti were active in London’s Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres, as well as in Paris. They became bywords for grace and elegance in subsequent references in print; their repertory is documented in part through the music series, ‘Hasse’s Comic Tunes’. The two illustrations selected have varied points of interest: can we identify the artists or publisher for the anonymous print? What is the motivation for the re-striking of the Scotin in the 1760s, and why was Queen Victoria moved to purchase of copy of this print (now in the New York Public Library)?

Proposed IMAGES for Auretti article:

Anon. [Paris? 1740s?]. The NYPL catalogue records the following legend: Telle est la célèbre Auretti, / L’ame du Bal, et de la Danse, / A qui le Ciel a departi / Le don de voler en cadance.  Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. *MGZFF Aur A U 3. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1740-1749.

Scotin, Louis Gérard (engraver), and J. Spilsbury (engraver). “Mademoiselle Auretti.” G. Scotin sculpt. London, published according to act of Parliament by J. Spilsbury, engraver, map & print seller, in Russel Court Covent Garden [176-?]. A re-strike of Scotin’s engraving, originally dated Jan’y ye 15th 1745/6. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1760 – 1769. *MGZFF Aur A U 2

Dawson, Nancy (Ann Newton c.1728-1767)

This popular British dancer is of interest for the fame generated by one particular role, the hornpipe; also for her accumulation of fame and reputation in song, verse, and an “Authentic Memoir.” 

Proposed IMAGE for Nancy Dawson article:

Anon. [after portrait by Michael Jackson?] ‘Nancy Dawson dancing the hornpipe‘. [London], c. 1753. Etching and Engraving. British Museum, 1849,1003.96.

Parisot, Mlle (c. 1775-after 1837)

Mademoiselle Parisot performed at the King’s Theatre during the final years of the eighteenth century. Noted for her unusual attitudes, all depictions of her – whether satirical or serious – emphasize her sensuality. The three illustrations proposed are each by artists of notably distinct styles.

Proposed IMAGES for Parisot article:

Devis, Arthur William, 1762-1822 (Artist), and John Raphael Smith, 1752-1812 (Engraver). “Mademoiselle Parisot” London: A.W. Devis, 1797. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1797-03-11. *MGZFF Par U 1.

Masquerier, John James, 1778-1855 (artist), and Charles Turner, 1774-1857 (engraver). ‘Mademoiselle Parisot.’ [London? 1799]. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1799. *MGZFB Par P 1.

Gillray, James, 1756-1815 (Artist). “Modern grace, or The operatical finale to the ballet of Alonzo e Cora.”  [London]: H. Humphrey, 1796. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1796-05-05.

Parisot by Masquerier
Mlle Parisot, drawn by J.J. Masquerier and engraved by C. Turner. Copy: New York Public Library

Fairbrother, Sarah Louise (1816-1890) 

This performer belongs to an established tradition of English actress-dancers. Active on the stages of Edinburgh and then London circa 1827-1848, Fairbrother was noted particularly for her assumption of male roles, and also as Columbine. Her colourful private life culminated in a morganatic marriage to Prince George Duke of Cambridge. It is hoped this blog will redress the present emphasis on her personal life by offering an assessment of her theatrical reception. Indicative list of potential IMAGES, supplied by Pimpernel Prints, include lithographs of Fairbrother in the following roles: as Eglantine (in Valentine and Orson); as Abdallah (in The Forty-Thieves); as Little John (in the burlesque Robin Hood); also

Brandard, John, 1812-1863 (Artist), and James Warren Childe, d. 1862 (Lithographer). ‘Columbine [with facsimile signature Louisa Fairbrother].’ London: J. Mitchell, 1839.  Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. *MGZFX Fai 1-2The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Anyone wanting to contribute to this blog is encouraged to contact Sarah McCleave,

Historical biography Uncategorised

Marie Sallé seminar

Historical biography Uncategorised

Mademoiselle Sallé and Her Discontents

By Robert V. Kenny

Mistriss SALLÉ toujours errante,

Et toujours vivant mécontente …

Mistress Sallé, forever wandering and forever discontented …
Marie Sallé in retirement by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, 1741. Copy: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Shortly after Marie Sallé’s return to Paris in the summer of 1735, at the end of what turned out to be her last season in London, the Abbé Prévost’s journal, Le Pour et Contre, gave an account of an incident at Covent Garden that would certainly have explained her reason for leaving London in a state of discontent. This incident had supposedly occurred during a performance of the ballet scenes in Handel’s new opera Alcina, choreographed by Sallé herself:

People unashamedly hissed her [onstage] in the theatre. The opera Alcina was being performed. Mademoiselle Sallé had composed a Ballet, in which she took the role of Cupid, a role she danced in male attire. It is said that this attire ill-suits her and was apparently the cause of her fall from grace. [Emphasis added.]

On n’a pas eu honte de la siffler en plein théâtre. On jouait l’Opéra d’Alcine. Mademoiselle Sallé avait composé un Ballet, dans lequel elle se chargea du rôle de Cupidon, qu’elle entreprit de danser en habit d’homme. Cet habit, dit- on, lui sied mal, et fut apparemment la cause de sa disgrâce.1)

These events are widely assumed to have taken place at the première of Alcina on 16 April 1735; indeed, the Biographical Dictionary of Actors, following Prévost, states as a fact that on that date she was hissed by members of the rival opera company from the King’s theatre.2)

A pirated edition of Le Pour et Contre in the Hague had already published a different report of her dissatisfaction with England, followed by an epigram, two lines of which appear above as my epigraph: Mademoiselle Sallé, unable to appear in England with the same satisfaction as before, when she received the applause of the Court and the City, has resolved to abandon the English and return to France. I am told that she has indeed left and is expected to arrive in Paris at any moment. Here is an Epigram on the subject of her return:

EPIGRAM on the Return of Mademoiselle Sallé

Mlle SALLÉ forever wandering,

And living forever discontented,

Still deafened by the sound of hissing,

Heavy of heart, light of purse,

Comes home, cursing the English,

Just as, on leaving for England,

She had cursed the French.

Mademoiselle Sallé ne pouvant plus paraitre en Angleterre avec la même satisfaction que ci-devant, lorsqu’elle recueillait les applaudissements de la Cour et de la Ville, a résolu d’abandonner les Anglais et de retourner en France. On me mande qu’elle est effectivement partie, et qu’on l’attend à Paris à tout moment. Voici une Epigramme qu’on a faite sur son retour.

EPIGRAMME sur le retour de Mademoiselle Sallé
Mistriss SALLÉ toujours errante,
Et toujours vivant mécontente,
Sourde encor du bruit des sifflets,
Le cœur gros, la bourse légère,
Revient, maudissant les Anglais,
Comme en partant pour l’Angleterre
Elle maudissait les Français.3)

This news item must have been written around mid-June (NS) because on 2 July 1735 (NS) in Paris, les nouvelles à la main [manuscript news-sheets] carried a report which appears to show knowledge of this pirated Hague edition of Le Pour et contre:

La Sallé has come back from England, as discontented with the English as she was with us when she left. Here is an epigram that depicts her perfectly …

La Sallé est revenue d’Angleterre, aussi mécontente des Anglais qu’elle l’était de nous quand elle partit. Voici une épigramme qui la peint au naturel …

The news-sheet reproduces the epigram with a slightly different second line: ‘Et qui vit toujours mécontente’ [‘And who lives forever discontented’].4) According to Prévost’s account, the hissing incident strongly suggested that Sallé, once the idol of London society, had fallen out of favour with it. This situation had been foreshadowed by other observers. In a letter of 9 January 1734 Mattieu Marais noted:

The English, who know little about dance, are growing tired of Sallé and say they had enough of her last year, and the ladies find her prissy [pimpesouée] and hoity-toity.

Les Anglais, qui se connaissent peu en danse, se lassent de la Sallé et disent qu’ils en ont eu assez il y a un an, et les dames anglaises la trouvent pimpe-souée et faisant la milady.5)

The word ‘pimpesouée’ implies a woman who plays ‘hard to get’ and it may be that Sallé’s impeccable private life was partly responsible for the ladies’ resentment of a mere dancer whose moral standards were higher than their own. In early 1735, Prévost had printed some English verses indicating that Sallé had aroused displeasure not only for her financial success but, more dangerously, for expressing a low opinion of the English:

Miss Sallé too (late come from France)

Says we can neither dress nor dance.

Yet she, as is agreed by most,

Dresses and dances at our cost.

She from experience draws her rules

And justly calls the English fools.

For such they are, since none but such

For foreign Jilts would pay so much.6)

In the following I propose to re-examine the supposed Cupid incident and suggest an alternative explanation for what happened.

First, it is important to note that, other than in Prévost (whose wording –‘it is said’ and ‘apparently’—indicates that he is writing at second or third hand), there is no reference to the Cupid incident in any other source. It is nowhere mentioned in the London press or in any contemporary French or English correspondence – including that of John Rich and the inveterate gossip Lord Hervey, who would surely have commented on it.  As for the suggestion that the hissing on this occasion came from a rival company, Sallé seems to have been on good terms with dancers from the other theatres; in fact, the London Daily Post and General Advertiser had reported on 17 March 1735 that

The Celebrated Monsieur [George] Denoyer and Mademoiselle Salle, by Permission of the Masters of the two Theatres Royal, … agreed to dance together at each other’s Benefit.  

The idea that hissing could have been provoked by Sallé’s costume as one of the fluttering cupids in Alcina’s garden is, in my view, equally far-fetched.  In the London seasons of 1733-4 and 1734-5, travesty roles for women in dance, often as cupids or petits-maîtres, were commonplace, as can be seen from these selections from two seasons’ playbills in The London Stage.

Covent Garden, 16 March 1734. The Nuptial Masque or The Triumphs of Cupid and Hymen. ‘Cupid – Miss Norsa, the first time of her appearing in boy’s clothes.’

Drury Lane, 18 March 1734. ‘Minuet by Mlle Grognet (in Boy’s Cloaths);’ Prince of Wales present.

Covent Garden, 18 March 1734. ‘A Courtier by Miss Norsa in Boy’s Cloaths.’

Goodman’s Fields, 25 March 1734. ‘An Epilogue of thanks spoke by Mrs Roberts in Man’s Cloaths.’

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1 April 1734. ‘Minuet by Mlle Grognet in Boy’s Cloaths.’

Covent Garden, 6 April 1734. ‘Mrs Kilby, the first time of her appearing in Boy’s Cloaths.’

Covent Garden, 29 April 1735 ‘Harlequin by Miss Norsa Jr., the first time of her appearance on any stage.’

Haymarket, 5 May 1735. Grognet benefit. ‘The Wedding (new) by Mlle Mimi Verneuil and Mlle Grognet in Man’s Clothes.

Covent Garden,  20 May 1735.  ‘Afterpiece Minuet by Mlle Grognet in Men’s Cloths, and Miss Baston.’

York Buildings, 3 June 1735. ‘A Minuet by Miss Norsa in Boy’s Cloaths and Miss Oates.’

Haymarket, 9 July 1735. Aaron Hill Zara. Epilogue spoken ‘by Miss ___ in Boy’s Cloaths.’

Click here for an image of the actress Peg Woffington in a trousers role (London, 1746).

However, in dance (as opposed to opera) this kind of travesty was almost exclusively the preserve of very young girls and women.7) It was, for example, a specialty of Manon Grognet (‘la petite grognette’ as Mathieu Marais called her in 1733), who was currently dancing in travesty as a petit-maître at the Little Haymarket Theatre – but, as Marais had written,  specifically contrasting  her dancing with that of Sallé, ‘it’s a different kind of dancing, and there will be enough for everyone [c’est une autre danse, et il y en aura pour tout le monde].’8)  What he was surely referring to was the difference between the ‘belle danse’ of the Opéra-trained Sallé and the sprightly commedia style that Grognet would have learned at the fairs.) As an adult, Sallé (aged twenty-six in 1735) never danced in male attire, and nothing in her entire adult career in London or Paris lends a shred of credibility to the idea that this woman of impeccable taste and judgment would have played a young male Cupid, so soon after the refined grandeur of her recent ground-breaking appearances as Galatea in Pygmalion, Ariadne in Bacchus and Ariadne, a Bridal Virgin in Apollo and Daphne, and the Bridal Nymph in A Nuptial Masque.

Mademoiselle Sallé’s 1734 Benefit as advertised in the Daily Journal

How, then, did this unlikely story arise? I believe there may be a clue in a letter from Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, to Diana, Duchess of Bedford, dated 24 June 1735, telling of an incident which did indeed take place at Covent Garden during a performance of Alcina. The King attended performances of this opera both on the opening night, 16 April, and on 14 May with the Queen and Princess Amelia. Since nothing unseemly was reported about the opening night (it surely would have been publicly noticed then), the incident recounted by the Duchess must have taken place on 14 May.  While the Duchess could not be bothered to know the name of the performer in question, Sarah McCleave has identified her as Marie Sallé:

The famous dancing woman (I do not know her name) in the opera, the audience were so excessive fond of her that they hollered out “encore” several times to have her dance over again, which she could not do, because as she was coming on again, the King made a motion with his hand that she should not. At last the dispute was so violent that to put an end to it, the curtain was let down, whereby the spectators lost all after the third act.9)

The Duchess’s letter provides evidence not only that Sallé danced in Alcina until 14 May but, more importantly, that a full month after the première of the opera, far from being out of favour, Sallé was still immensely popular.  As Alcina has only three acts, the Duchess’s meaning is unclear, but it seems likely that the incident took place at the end of the second act in the ballet of good and bad dreams, probably the ‘Entrance of pleasant dreams’ [Entrée des songes agréables], which Handel borrowed from the ballet he had written for Sallé in Ariodante in January 1735. The King’s gesture was clearly one of impatience, indicating that he wanted the evening to end soon.  On the following day, 15 May, he was to prorogue parliament and on 17 May he would eagerly set out for Hanover and the arms of his mistress. He had sat through two acts and his mind was already elsewhere.

As the Duchess makes clear, the audience’s anger at the King’s peremptory dismissal of the popular dancer was so violent that the performance had to be brought to an end. Hissing there certainly was, and Sallé was indeed obliged to leave the stage, not because of her costume (which audiences over the three previous weeks had already seen without comment), but, according to the Duchess of Marlborough, in obedience to a gesture from the King which most of the audience would not have seen. Could it be that the noisy outburst at this aborted performance on 14 May was thought by some (especially those who heard of it at second-hand) to have been directed not against the King but against Sallé herself when she attempted to return to the stage to take her encore? Might it even be that her entrée was not a solo and that a cupid or cupids en travesti entered with her, adding to the confusion?

This explanation may perhaps be supported by the opening of the already quoted news item from the pirated Hague edition of Le Pour et contre:

Parisians have learned with a joy that is neither shocking nor insulting to Mademoiselle Sallé, of the unfortunate accident[10] that befell her recently [emphasis added] in London, since this insult seemed to them to predict the prompt return of this famous dancer.

Les Parisiens ont appris avec une joie qui n’a rien de choquant ni d’insultant pour Mademoiselle Sallé, le fâcheux accident qui lui est arrivé en dernier lieu [emphasis added] à Londres, puisque cet affront leur semblait pronostiquer le prompt retour de cette fameuse Danseuse.

This report seems to me entirely consistent with the incident described by the Duchess of Marlborough. The report that Sallé was being less favourably received than before by the Court (the King?) and the City (the raucous audience?), makes the ‘unfortunate incident’ sound very recent, far more like the ‘violent dispute’ which happened on 14 May than something which has hitherto been presumed to have taken place on 16 April and of which there is not a single mention in the English press.

Since the Earl of Egmont, a friend and confident of both King and Queen, noted in his journal for 14 May, ‘In the evening I went to Handel’s opera called Alcina, it might seem odd that he made no mention of any disturbance. However, earlier in the day, he had had a long discussion with the Bishop of Salisbury concerning the unstable state of international affairs, and the King’s apparent indifference to it. The Bishop warned Egmont that ‘Sir Robert [Walpole] sees his situation and is very uneasy at it, and so is the Queen. […] It is a great misfortune the King is made believe the people’s affections are warm to him, none daring to tell him the truth.’11) Egmont might, then, have found nothing newsworthy in a rowdy demonstration against the monarch and in favour of a much-loved dancer.

Sallé, however, may well have interpreted the King’s gesture as an unexpected sign of sudden royal disfavour, and she might even have taken the ensuing raucous demonstration to be directed against her rather than against the King. After the performance on 14 May there is not a single known mention of her by name in the London press or contemporary correspondence concerning the remainder of the Covent Garden season. There were altogether eighteen performances of Alcina, ending with a royal command performance for Queen Caroline on 2 July, but Sallé cannot have been dancing in London on 2 July 1735, or at any point after mid-June at the latest, for one very simple reason. What seems to have been hitherto overlooked is the crucial fact that Britain did not adopt the Gregorian revisions to the calendar until 1752, and until then the date in England (Old Style) was eleven days behind the date in Catholic Europe (New Style). Sallé must have already been in Paris well before 2 July (New Style) for the news of her arrival to reach the news-sheets and inspire the mocking epigram. The journey from London to Paris could take over a week, often ten days or more, depending on the state of the seas and the roads. This means that at the very latest Sallé must have left London around mid-June (OS) and performances of Alcina must therefore have continued without her.12) It could even be that Sallé walked out of Covent Garden immediately after the ‘unfortunate incident’ of 14 May; her ‘empty purse’ mentioned in the mocking verses would be the result of the loss of salary for the remaining nine performances. This view is supported by the fact that, when Alcina was revived, in November of the 1736-7 season, it was without either Sallé or the dances. 

Extract from one of Handel’s dances for Sallé in Terpsichore (1734).

Sallé’s behaviour may seem an over-reaction to what might best be described as an unfortunate concatenation of misunderstandings. But it was in keeping with her hypersensitive and headstrong character.  There has been no previous discussion of the fact that every one of Sallé’s seasons between 1730 and 1735 ended abruptly in some kind of irregular incident, violent altercation, and/or illness — Paris in August 1730; London in May-June 1731; Paris in November-December 1732; London in May 1734; London in May-June 1735. The nouvelles à la main dated 25 August 1730 reported that she and one of the directors (Claude-François Leboeuf) had argued on the stage of the Opéra, perhaps even coming to blows.13) In London, where she remained from November to the end of the 1730-31 season, Sallé received a glittering royal benefit on 25 March 1731. However, her name disappeared from the playbills from 3 May until 1 June, when there was a single announcement of ‘Dancing by Mlle Sallé’; then Rich’s company moved to Richmond, and Sallé, presumably, went back to France. No explanation seems to exist for this rather odd, month-long hiatus. In her letter to the Duchess of Richmond in 1731, Sallé made it abundantly clear that she did not like John Rich, whom she described as ‘a rude and unjust man at whose hands I have suffered too much ill treatment [un homme impoli et injuste, dont j’ai souffert trop de mauvais traitemens].’14) The last two lines of the epigram written about her two years later – ‘Just as on leaving for England/ She had cursed the French’  — would seem to be further confirmation of the fact that Sallé had left Paris in October 1733 in unpleasant circumstances. On 24 May 1734, Pygmalion and Bacchus and Ariadne were advertised, as ‘being the last Time of the Company’s performing this Season‘ (Daily Journal). However, according to Rich’s Register the audience was dismissed, ‘by reason Madem Sallé wou’d not come to the House.’15)

 Whatever exactly happened in 1735, it is clear that the ‘unhappy incident’ (‘fâcheux accident’) was the culmination of a number of unfortunate events, and one from which she did not recover. It affected her health: Voltaire, who saw her soon after her return, wrote on 15 July to Sallé’s ardent but frustrated admirer, Nicolas-Claude Thiériot, ‘So, you are avenged; your nymph has lost her beauty [Vous voilà donc vengé de votre nymphe; elle a perdu sa beauté].’16) Sallé had not, however, lost the admiration of audiences in both countries. The pirated Pour et contre had recorded the ‘joy’ with which Parisians looked forward to her return:

It is not yet known whether she will dance at the Opéra, and the public display an impatience about this which does her credit.

On ne sait encore si elle dansera à l’Opéra,et le public témoigne là-dessus une impatience qui lui fait honneur.

The Daily Journal of Tuesday 5 August (OS) reported that, to the delight of all Paris, Sallé was to dance in the new opera Les Victoires Galantes, the original title of Fuzelier-Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes, premiered on 23 August 1735 (NS). It added,

We do not mind what shall be done upon the Rhine by Marshall Coigny, or in Lombardy by Marshall Noailles, but what Mademoiselle Sallé will perform on the stage of Paris.17)

The fact that her activities were the object of so much speculation may simply be the result of her ‘celebrity’ status, enhanced by prurient interest in the ‘virtue’ (i.e., chastity) of a mere dancer and perhaps also by the very unpredictability that I have been describing.  Judges as severe as Voltaire seem to have been charmed by her charismatic personality. Proof that she still had a loyal following in London is suggested by the report in the Grub Street Journal for 19 August 1736 that Desnoyer, ‘the famous Dancer at Drury-lane theatre,’ had gone to Paris ‘by order of Mr. Fleetwood [the theatre manager]’ to try to hire Sallé for the winter season – something that certainly does not suggest any dimming of her star. But the hopes of Desnoyer and Fleetwood were to be disappointed.

Did Sallé ever return to England? Dacier notes that some of her contemporaries thought this, though he could find no evidence of it.18) An unsubstantiated and uncorroborated account, written some ten years after the event it claims to describe, was included in an anonymous article (Mémoires d’un Musicien) which appeared in three numbers of the Journal Encyclopédique in May-June 1756, just a month before Sallé’s death in obscurity:

Mlle Sallé, the French dancer in whom the most respectable morals were united with the rarest talents, caused admiration on the London stage for graceful qualities which the English had not hitherto seen, and which are created and acquired only in France. I had known her there; she seemed most content to receive me, and I was witness to her unhesitating sacrifice of over a thousand louis which ought to have accrued from her engagement with Handel, even though she was solicited by the greatest lords in London to break it off, which a caprice led them to speculate would be more desirable.

Mlle. Sallé, Danseuse Françoise, qui scavoit unir les moeurs les plus respectables aux plus rares talens, faisoit assez admirer sur le Théâtre de Londres des graces que les Anglois n’avoient pas encore connues, & qui ne naissent, & ne peuvent s’acquerir qu’en France. Je l’y avois connue, elle parut fort aise de me voir, & je fus temoin du sacrifice qu’elle n’hésita point de faire de plus de mille Louis qui auroient dû lui revenir de son engagement avec Hendel, quoique sollicité par les plus grands Seigneurs de Londre de le rompre, pour en prendre un nouveau avec un entrepreneur qu’un caprice leur faisoit esperer plus agréable.19)

In a 1996 article by David Charlton and Sarah Hibberd, these few lines became the subject of scholarly speculation on the possibility of Sallé’s return to London, a discussion taken up and amplified by Sarah McCleave.20) Whatever the facts of this matter may be, one thing is clear: after leaving London in June 1735, Marie Sallé was never again to dance on the English stage.

About the author

Dr Robert V Kenny is Honorary Fellow in French Studies in the University of Leicester. His full-length study of Sallé’s uncle François Moylin (Francisque)  and his travelling theatre companies in England and France will be published by Boydell and Brewer early in 2025.


  1. Antoine François Prévost, Le Pour et contre, 6 (87), pp. 286-7. Immediately before this story, the writer claims to have no idea what caused Sallé’s fall from grace. The whole article gives the impression of having been concocted from several sources or rumours.
  2. Highfill, Philip H., Jr., Edward A. Langhans, Kalman Burnim, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973-93, vol.13, p.183.
  3.  Le Pour et contre (pirated edition), The Hague: Isaac van der Kloot, 1735, 6 (206), p. 72. Jean Sgard’s index confirms the fact that this news item and the epigram did not appear in the Paris edition. Jean Sgard, Le ‘Pour et contre’ de Prévost, introduction, tables et index, Paris: Nizet, 1969, p. 210.
  4. This news and a half-remembered part of the epigram were also contained in a letter from Mathieu Marais to the President of the Dijon Parlement, Jean Bouhier, dated 3 July (New Style), and, according to Emile Dacier, the verses appeared in London in the General Advertiser of 10 July (Old Style), although I have not been able to verify this. Editor’s note: I have seen this in British Library ‘Latreille Collection’ Add. MS 32251, fol. 231v; also in Walter Eisen, Margret Eisen, and Otto Erich Deutsch, Händel-Handbuch, vol. 4, (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1985), p. 253; both sources claim it appeared in several newspapers after the opera season ended on 2 July 1735. A search for Sallé in the Burney Newspapers throughout July 1735 in Gale primary sources online yields nothing on the dancer. An additional manual browse of the twelve surviving issues of the London Daily Post and General Advertiser for July 1735 (a most likely source), does not yield anything on Sallé – but six of these issues have articles cut from them. The George Frideric Handel Collected Documents project does not include any references to this epigram for July 1735. See Donald Burrows, Helen Coffey, John Greenacombe and Anthony Hicks (eds.), The George Frideric Handel Collected Documents 1734-1742, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
  5. Quoted in Emile Dacier, Une Danseuse de l’Opéra sous Louis XV, Mlle Sallé (1707-1756). Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1909, p. 144. Henri Duranton’s edition of these letters gives ‘trop louée’ instead of ‘pimpesouée’. Dacier’s reading sounds more likely.
  6. Antoine François Prévost, Le Pour et le Contre, 1735, vol.6 (76), p.22-3.  Jean Sgard confidently dates this number no later than February/early March 1735.  See Sgard, Le ‘Pour’, p.32.
  7. Indeed, back in Paris in January 1733, a titillating travesty role by the opera singer Mlle Le Maure as ‘l’Amour’ in Louis de Boissy’s comedy Les Etrennes (in the act ‘la Vue’ of Pierre-Charles Roy’s Ballet des sens, première 5 June 1732) was held up as the very antithesis of Sallé’s more elevated and noble style. Dacier, p. 102.
  8. Mathieu Marais, Letter of 1 December 1733, in Correspondance littéraire du président Bouhier, ed. Henri Duranton, vol. IX (2): Lettres de Mathieu Marais. Saint-Etienne, 1981.
  9. Letters of a Grandmother 1732-1735. Being the Correspondence of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough with her Granddaughter Diana, Duchess of Bedford, ed. Gladys Scott Thompson (London: Jonathan Cape, 1943), p.151. Quoted in Sarah McCleave, Dance in Handel’s London Operas, Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester, 2013, p.1.
  10. The French word accident regularly has the broader meaning of incident.
  11. J. Perceval. Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont: Diary of Viscount Percival afterwards first Earl of Egmont …volume 2, 1734-1783 (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1920-23), p. 177.
  12. She probably returned to France with the company of her uncle Francisque, wh had been performing a season of French drama at the Little Haymarket theatre until early June.  The company included Manon Grognet, but there is no justification for Deirdre Kelly’s statement that she and Sallé travelled ‘openly’ together, or for the inferences drawn from this supposed fact. See Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Vancouver, 2012), p. 34.  
  13. Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, ms. 26700.
  14. McCleave, Dancing at the English Opera, p. 37.
  15. The London Stage, Part 3, vol. 1, p. 401.
  16. Letter 490, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire … nouvelle édition (Paris: Garnier frères, 1880), vol. 33, pp. 505-506.
  17. The original report inverts ‘of’ and ‘on’. This must surely be an error.
  18. Dacier, p.253.
  19. Journal encyclopedique, 14 (1756), 47-48, as translated in David Charlton and Sarah Hibberd, ‘“My father was a poor Parisian musician”: a memoir (1756) concerning Rameau, Handel’s Library and Sallé’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 128, No. 2 (2003), pp. 161-199, [47-48 in the original], p. 197.
  20. See Charlton and Hibberd, p.197; McCleave, Dance in Handel’s London Operas, pp.119-20.

Next Post

The next post will be a report on an aspect of Sarah McCleave’s ‘Fame and the Female Dancer’ project.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez since 1860

Lola Montez stimulated a considerable posthumous cultural legacy, remaining a subject of interest in places where she’d lived and performed (including Germany, France, USA, Australia) – but also in places she’d never been. This blog post will highlight a small selection of the works in various media inspired by this controversial performing artist.

Coverage of Montez in the press throughout the 1860s remained fairly intense. The London-based weekly, the Era, had by the time of Montez’s death become a regular source of information on all matters theatrical. Its two-column obituary of Montez (10 February 1861), reproduced from the New York Herald of 21st January demonstrates the range of response that Lola inspired. This obituary was swift to point out her personal faults (“Lola … managed to quarrel with everybody she met”), and to dismiss her skills as a performer (“As an artist she was good for nothing.”). Her début at New York’s Broadway theatre took place “to a crowded house, nearly all men. Everybody was disappointed in her dancing and appearance.” Such was the culture of the time that even Montez’s thinness was cast as a moral issue, a product of her “fast living and incessant smoking”. The Herald/Era is most positive when discussing Lola’s career as a lecturer, as she “attracted large audiences, her manner being very prepossessing, and her delivery excellent.” It also recognized that “Lola was very generous to people about her, and would share her last meal with a friend.” Indeed, at her untimely death Lola was surrounded by friends who “cared for her, and mourned her loss”.1)

Montez had the perfect combination of qualities to sustain her celebrity status: some sympathetic attributes, some marked personal flaws, and a tremendous charisma combined with enough capacity as an entertainer to make herself known in the public sphere. By the end of the decade, she was remembered in a nostalgic manner by Paris’s Le petit Figaro, which in its gossip column (“Causeries”) of 22 June 1869 cast her as “une pauvre errante” (a poor erring one) and the leading player in a piece on actresses who’d managed affairs with royalty. In reviewing her Paris years, it suggested Lola’s engagement as a dancer at the Porte de Saint-Martin was secondary to the negative role that she, as a beautiful woman, was obliged to assume — of selling her charms (“Elle … vendu ses charmes au plus offrant … pour en venir jouer un de ces rôles negatifs dans nos théâtres. Singularité de la vie des belles.”) Of her Bavarian sojourn and subsequent exile, the paper tartly observed that to keep a single, defenceless woman out of the region the garrison’s forces at Munich were doubled.2) And so Le petit Figaro mentions Lola’s capacity to wreak havoc while poking fun at authority for its overblown response to her. In effect, the Parisian press (as did the Anglo-American) traded in on Montez’s fabulous life to generate material, but did not feel so obliged to adopt the moral high ground. As for the Antipodean press, the name of Lola Montez generated the most coverage during her decade as a traveling dancer (the 1850s, some 1000 references), with a similar level of exposure in the decade of her death.3)

As was the case in her life, so it was in death: any purportedly biographical publication about Mme Montez was assuredly a blend of the fictional and of her equally fabulous reality. The tone of the publications reflected the nature of the society in which they were generated — and the role Lola played within that milieu. And so in Germany during or shortly after her Munich period a study of her relationship with the Jesuits, and also of her political significance, came out in print.4) In America – where as a fervent Christian Lola spent her final months in relative seclusion and sobriety – within six years of her death the Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge had published The Story of a Penitent: Lola Montez. By the early 20th century her persona as an adventuress held a particular appeal in the Anglophone world — as her place within William Rutherford Hayes’s 1908 biographical compilation Seven Splendid Sinners suggests.

Lola has also stimulated a considerable number of creative works in a range of media. Novels, films, a musical, and songs dating into the second decade of the 21st century demonstrate her abiding capacity to generate interest. Some of these works draw on her actual adventures; others create entirely fictional episodes that use the name of Lola Montez to represent an uninhibited adventuress.5)

Sometimes one work might spawn another in a different medium. In 1918 Robert Heymann (1879-1946) adapted and directed a silent film “Lola Montes” on a novel by Adolf Paul (1863-1943), with Leopoldine Konstantin (1886-1965) in the title role. Paul’s novel also led to further Lola-inspired films including The Palace of Pleasure (1926; directed by James Flynn) and Lola Montez: One mad kiss (1930, directed by Marcel Silver and James Tinling). Max Ophuls’s final film, Lola Montès of 1955 is described on YouTube as “a magnificent romantic melodrama, a meditation on the lurid fascination with celebrity, and a one-of-a-kind movie spectacle” (criterioncollection). The trailer gives us a wonderful glimpse of incidents many of which would not have had to rely on fiction, although Lola’s stint as a circus performer in the film was imagined rather than quasi-biographical. Indeed, ‘The Circus’ has become the title for a suite of music by Georges Auric from the film.

Mary Preston in the title-role of the 1958 Australian musical, Lola Montez. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 29 October 1958,

A 1958 musical with music by composer Peter Stannard and lyrics by Peter Benjamin was broadcast on Australian television in 1965, with a particular hit in the song ‘Saturday Girl‘; a CD was released in 2000, with a one-off 60th anniversary production in 2018 by David Spicer.   Lola has also inspired the occasional popular song from musicians working in markedly different styles — including the ‘Latin Folk Exotica’ of Elisabeth Waldo’s 1969 ‘The Ballad of Lola Montez‘ on her Viva California album and the groove metal number ‘Lola Montez‘ on Volbeat’s 2013 album Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies (Universal). In 2017, an acoustic folk concoction ‘The Countess Lola Montez’ was written and performed by Norman and Nancy Blake on Brushwood Songs and Stories (Plectrafone Records).

Lola Montez has attracted and sustained this attention due to her unconventional personal life and behaviour; her characteristic audacity and flair would also have lent sparkle to her performances on stage. The compelling stories surrounding this difficult but fascinating woman have created and sustained her celebrity for over 150 years.

Featured Image

A naked Lola Montez dominating the dwarfed King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Artist not identified. Austrian National Library, Austria – Public Domain. Europeana.


  1. Gale News Vault, accessed 22 September 2023.
  2. “Pour empêcher une pauvre femme, jeune, rieuse, et sans défense de pénétrer dans Munich, on doubla le garnison …”. Théodore de Grave, 1869, “Causeries”, in Le petit Figaro, 22 June. Retronews,, accessed 23 September 2023.
  3. Trove,, accessed 21 September 2023. Not all of these references are to the dancer, as a schooner named for her accounts for a significant portion of these figures.
  4. Paul Erdmann, 1847, Lola Montez und die Jesuiten : Eine Darstellung der jüngsten Ereignisse in München, Hamburg : Hoffman und Campe; Francis, 1848, Lola Montes und ihre politische stellung in München; nach einem englischen berichte und mit einem vorwort des deutschen herausgebers, München, druck der J. Deschler’schen offizin.
  5. See, for example, the ‘Whip Smart’ trilogy by Kit Brennan (2012-2014).

Next post

The next post will report on the progress of Fame and the Female Dancer.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez in the Antipodes

By Sarah McCleave

Lola Montez ‘In the Green Room’ by John Michael Skipper. Copy: State Library of South Australia, B 9422/4.

The first known reference to Lola in the Antipodean press marked one of her violent escapades – an event that nearly landed her in prison. Under the title ‘A Dancer in Trouble’, The Australian for 24 August 1844 inaccurately described our subject as the nineteen-year-old Mlle Montez, a Spanish dancer and the daughter of a deceased Spanish General, “who has for some time been much admired … for her great talent, is likely to be put in prison for some time.” Whilst in Berlin she attended the ‘grand Review’ on horseback, and when her horse was alarmed by some firing and “rushed amongst the suite of the two sovereigns”, she reacted badly to a gendarme who had struck her horse a blow with his sabre – striking the man across the face with her whip. Lola was subsequently issued with a summons that she reportedly (according to this ‘Letter from Berlin’) tore up. Lola was then arrested “for having manifested marks of disrespect to the orders of justice” – a charge which could have carried a sentence of 3-5 years’ imprisonment. The Adelaide Observer (12 October 1844) repeated the tale in a section of material on ‘Spain’. For nearly three years thereafter the Antipodean papers apparently chose not to run stories concerning Mlle Montez – until she elected to pen a letter concerning her origins, originally addressed to the Paris-based publisher Galignani. This missive found its way into The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser of 25 August 1847:

I was born in Seville in the year 1823. My father was a Spanish officer in the service of Don Carlos; my mother, a lady of Irish extraction, was born at the Havannah, and married for a second time to an Irish gentleman, which I suppose is the cause of my being called Irish, and sometimes English, ‘Betsy Watson ,’ ‘Mrs James’, &c. &c. I beg leave to say that my name is Maria Dolores Porres Montes, and I have never changed that name. As for my theatrical qualifications, I never had the presumption to think I had any; circumstances obliged me at a more advanced age than usual, in consequence of the misfortunes of my family, to adopt the stage as a profession – which profession I have now renounced for ever, having become a naturalized Bavarian, and intending in future making Munich my residence. …

Lola Montez, Munich, March 31. [1847] as reproduced in, accessed 15 July 2023.

The Maitland Mercury distanced itself from presenting this letter as factual reportage, asserting “We do not answer for its authenticity.” (Indeed, the sterling archival research of Bruce Seymour has established beyond doubt that Lola’s origins were 100% Anglo-Irish.1) But as a crafted story of origin this is intelligent in addressing inconvenient biographical details (her identity as ‘Mrs James’ is explained away) while making a bid for her readers’ sympathy (“I never had the presumption … in consequence of the misfortunes of my family …”). Lola is distancing herself from her theatrical career – possibly trying to open doors that would be closed to a mere actress – but subsequent events pushed her back onto the stage, probably not at all unwillingly.

Lola’s connection to king Ludwig I of Bavaria and a series of Bavarian scandals which she generated excited much press coverage in the late 1840s; typical is an oft-repeated report of 32 persons arrested for creating a disturbance when Lola, forced to leave Bavaria as its revolution erupted, passed through Hamburg.2 In Australia, Lola’s consequent celebrity status is affirmed when The Sydney Morning Herald (first among many broadsheets to do so) advised its readers of

Handsomely Framed Engravings Just Landed, in Salacia. Mr Edward Salomon, will sell by auction, at his Rooms, George-Street, Tuesday May 30, at 11 o’clock … [including] Lola Montez – a beautiful engraving in maple and gold frame …

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 1848 in

This was followed by another well-circulated report of king Ludwig’s abdication “into temporary retirement with Lola Montez” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1848). The inaccuracy of this story was revealed before the month was out, as the Hobart Courier for 29 July 1848 – under the heading ‘Lola Montez and her new admirer’ – recounted her association with Robert Peel 3rd Baronet, “our Charge d’Affaires in Berne”, with whom Lola  – described as a “fair and fiery fury” – is seen promenading on a daily basis, followed by a varied train of gentlemen, girls, and children. Peel, with an “aim to be conspicuous” surely equaled by the object of his admiration, even hosted a dinner for her to which the English ambassador had been invited.

Montez’s bigamous marriage with George Trafford Heald was the next event to receive multiple coverage, led by The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 November 1849. By 11 January 1850 the Melbourne Argus broadcast Lola’s origins as Miss Eliza Gilbert, a former attendee of a boarding school in Monkwearmouth (Sunderland). Eliza’s former drawing teacher Mr Grant remembered a “beautiful and elegant child”, but one who demonstrated an “indomitable self-will”. This revelation did not prevent the Irishwoman from being received as the persona ‘Lola Montez’ when she arrived in Australia some five years later – although the Argus would maintain a critical stance in its subsequent coverage of her. The Antipodean press was engaging with Montez as a personality rather than as a performing artist – until The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser for 13 August 1853 reprinted a review of one of her Californian performances as ‘American News’. The level of interest that Montez could generate on a stage is evident in this account:

Seldom is actress or artist greeted with such a house as was the renowned Countess of Landesfeldt last evening at the American. The building was literally stowed with human beings. …the people … were impatient till [Lola Montez] appeared. In the character of Yelva, Madame Lola’s powers of pantomime were exhibited, and she portrayed the sufferings of the orphan with a great deal of truthfulness and effect … Following this came … the Dance. The dance was what all had come to see, and there was an anxious flutter and an intense interest as the moment approached … She was greeted with a storm of applause, and then she executed the dance, which is said to be her favorite, and has won for her much notoriety. The Spider Dance is a very remarkable affair. It is thoroughly Spanish, certainly, and it cannot be denied that it is a most attractive performance. As a danseuse, Madame Lola is far above mediocrity. Indeed, some parts of her execution was truly admirable. She was heartily applauded … [and] is sure to have fine success with us …

Alta California of 28 May, reproduced 13 August 1853, found in

Australia, by finally acknowledging Montez as a performer, joined other nations in expressing a fascination with her pièce de resistance – the Spider Dance. In 1853, a ball organised by G Pickering of Sydney promised “all the late polkas – and especially Lola Montes’ Spider Dance, which is just now creating such a sensation in Europe and California.”3 Lola brought this sensation to Australia in the latter months of 1855; the sensations that the Argus of Melbourne (20 September) chose to record were shock (“a public exhibition of this kind”) and moral condemnation – the latter directed at any of the theatres who chose to let Montez perform (“they have no right to insult respectable ladies by inviting their attendance”). The Hobart Courier (25 September 1855) gleefully reproduced this journalistic exemplar of moral outrage alongside an eloquent letter Lola had penned in response, in which she reasonably pointed out that the tarantella is a national dance performed by all classes of Spaniards; she is not attempting to cater for a “morbid taste for immoral representations”, but rather views the dance as a piece of “high art”. Montez’s readiness to engage with the press and her skill at identifying the best possible angle from which to present herself promoted her fame as a professional in tandem with renewing her status as a celebrity. In the image below Adelaide-based artist John Michael Skipper (1815-1883) depicts Lola the professional rendering the Spider Dance with vivacity and grace. The featured image for this blog is the same artist’s take on Lola the celebrity – engaging in the provocative act of being a woman who dared to smoke in public.

Lola Montez performing the ‘Spider Dance’ by John Michael Skipper. Copy: State Library of South Australia, B 9422/2.

And yet Lola’s departure from San Francisco for Australia on the Fanny Major (6 June 1855) with a self-assembled theatre company apparently had generated no press coverage at her destination.4 Her Antipodean coverage picked up suddenly and in a sustained manner from 23 August 1855, with her company’s début performance at the Royal Victoria theatre, Sydney,  in “the deeply-interesting drama”, Lola Montez in Bavaria (Sydney Empire, 23 August 1855). Lola gained a favorable review  for her acting from the Sydney and Sporting Review (25 August 1855), which opened by remarking: “This extraordinary and gifted being made her appearance … before the most crowded audience that was ever jammed into the Victoria.” Noting that her notoriety did not prevent her from eventually winning over a “particular” American public, the paper continued by observing,

the Lola Montes of reality, [is] a different personage fromthe Lola Montes of notoriety.Her entrée was modest and elegant, and throughout the long performance she played with a mingled fervour, grace, playfulness, and pathos that fully gained the favour of all.…. We glory in the boldness of the woman who … challenges her tale to be gainsaid.She not only vindicates her character during that particular career, but appeals to history to confirm her statement …

Reproduced in, accessed 14 July 2023.

Lola invariably attracted partisan press coverage, in large part because her celebrity status permeated nearly every account we have of her. Her Antipodean period saw performance successes and failures, the rupture of many professional alliances (she broke with her original company some months into the tour), and the tragic loss of her married lover the actor Frank Folland on the return journey to the USA.5 On her arrival Stateside Lola cultivated a profile as a public lecturer. In this pursuit she was quite successful, as her capacity to engage and fascinate was in this format perhaps less compromised by technical limitations (as compared with her dancing or acting). Lola’s final American years were also marked by her fervent interest in Christianity, by accelerating poor health, and an early death on 17 January 1861 in New York City. Despite the sad brevity of her existence, the eventful life and career of ‘Lola Montez’ continued to exert a fascination that is still evident in our own time.

Next post

The next post will consider the posthumous reception of Lola Montez.


  1. On Lola Montez’s origins, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez a Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 1-8.
  2. Trove’s earliest reference to this story is 27 October 1847 in The Courier (Hobart, Tasmania).
  3. The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1853, p. 2; see, accessed 14 July 2023.
  4. Seymour (page 331) discovered no evidence of advance publicity; independent research on Trove found only three stories connected with Lola Montez during 1855 in the months prior to her arrival, and none of these related to her professional activities. This is in direct contrast with her American sojourn, for which Montez and her Paris agent generated a good deal of advance publicity (see the previous blog).
  5. For Lola’s Antipodean period, see Seymour, pp. 331-349; for her final American years, see Seymour, pp. 350-393.
Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez in America

By Sarah McCleave

Lola’s determination to try her luck in America demonstrated her capacity to take on new challenges and her quest for adventure. In her initial four-year sojourn to that country (1851-1855), she traversed a goodly span of the still-expanding United States, developing her skills as an actress and a lecturer while still remaining active as a ‘Spanish dancer’. This blog will focus on the kind of reception she attracted, particularly in the print media.1) Lola had already been an occasional subject of interest in the American press since her London début, where her persona as a “Spanish danseuse who has created a great sensation” was lauded for demonstrating a “bewitching” softness and suppleness (Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, 29 July 1843). Symptomatic of her status as a celebrity, Lola received more intense coverage during her turbulent period in Munich. Philadelphia’s Public Ledger offered a terse account of the Munich riots that served mainly to apportion blame:

Lola Montez the dancer, by her impudent conduct and unpopularity, has occasioned a riot at Munich which compelled her to leave.2

Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 20 March 1848

Lola’s peregrinations since fleeing Munich eventually led her to Paris by late March 1851. She subsequently prepared her return to the stage, placing herself under the tutelage of dancer turned impresario Charles Mabille, who choreographed a tarentella as well as Bavarian, Hungarian, and Tyrolean dances for her. She made important contacts with Americans such as Edward Payson Willis, younger brother of the editor and author Nathanial Parker Willis; Lola also intrigued James Gordon Bennett, editor and publisher of the New York Herald – who would lead his peers in providing Montez with what amounted to free publicity throughout her American period. The younger Willis had encouraged Lola to make an American tour; she duly made provision for this when, on 26 August 1851, she signed a six-month contract with the Parisian-based agents Roux et cie (later reneged in favour of Payson Willis). On 12 September Lola offered a private preview of her repertory at the Jardin Mabille, before undertaking what would be her final European tour through parts of France, Belgium, and what is now Germany.3)

Lola’s arrival Stateside was already anticipated. On 22 August 1851, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel and Gazette dismissed her as a “notorious courtesan concerning whose probable visit to this country much has been said of late”. By the time Lola had disembarked the Humboldt in New York city on 5 December 1851, her arrival had also attracted the attentions of thespian-turned-caricaturist David Claypoole Johnston (1798-1865). Johnston was inspired to comment on Lola’s capacity to disrupt and to stimulate through a pair of images: directly below we have ‘Lola coming!’ which depicts a pert dancer aloft a departing boat, cheerily saluting a group of variously stunned or bereft men of high station, including an openly distraught king Ludwig (presumably the weeping figure with handkerchief).

1851 Caricature of Lola Montez by David Claypoole Johnston. Private collection.

Johnstone also marked Lola’s arrival with ‘Lola is come!’ (see featured image, above). News editor Bennett takes pride of place to our right, in what would have been the best seat in the house for enjoying Lola’s “bewitching” postures up close — and for determining whether she sported knickers or not. We have an anonymous puritan in the audience, showing both disapproval (through the tract in his hand) and fascination (the expanded iris of his one visible eye as he stares through his fingers at the audacious dancer). It is not known whether the stage manager to the left – keenly anticipating his acquisition of 50% of the proceeds – is Broadway Theatre manager Thomas Barry (at whose theatre Lola made her American début on 29 December 1851) or merely a figure representative of his profession.4)

Lola’s performances attracted both advance notices and reviews in the press. Of the latter, one of the more favourable notices lauded her “great ability” in the pantomime sections of the ballet, Betley the Tyrolean, claiming Montez the equal to the “versatile and expressive mime artist” Céline Céleste. (Céleste had toured the US on several occasions, most recently in 1851.) 5) Montez’s dancing made an impression as “decidedly unique and original”; her acting displayed a capacity to make an ungratefully-written character appear interesting  although her voice lacked projection in its upper range. As to her person, Montez of the “remarkably beautiful” eyes also possessed a “good” figure, “incomparably graceful” action and a “most radiant” smile. (The Mississippi Free Trader, 26 January 1853). On 19 January 1851 , the same paper had already reported on Lola graciously sharing the tributes and bouquets of an enthusiastic audience with her colleagues; this action endeared her to the audience still further.

Tonight she will perform a pas seul … [she] will be original. She copies from no one; she is herself alone.

Mississippi Free Trader (Natchez), 19 January 1853, p. 2

Whether Lola’s authenticity as a performer was mirrored in her off-stage persona is debatable. The generosity she displayed on the Natchez stage may have been calculated to stimulate positive publicity, but if so was certainly not a one-off: the “much beloved” Lola had been reported offering “unbounded” acts of charity to the poor whilst resident on Lake Geneva in 1848; in 1852, she offered a charitable performance for the Disabled firemen at Philadelphia’s Walnut theatre. For the latter act she was rewarded with a formal presentation that was duly recorded in the press.6) And while her regrettable temper underpinned her most audacious actions – including her tendency to brandish whips, pistols, or poison when editors or theatre managers treated her unfavorably 7) – she also demonstrated genuine courage, as this anecdote regarding an encounter with a group of army officers reveals:

Lola Montez is bound to keep herself before the public. It is related that while she was in Montreal she visited a well-known confectionary establishment on Notre-Dame street, and while there was annoyed by the entrance of several young army officers, who, under the pretence of buying something, gazed pertinaciously and unpleasantly at her. After submitting awhile, Lola walked up to the mistress of the saloon and asked, “Madam, how much do these persons owe you?” Her only answer at first was a look of surprise, but on the question being repeated, she was told “One shilling and sixpence.” “Here it is, then,” said Lola, “I would not wish that these gentlemen should lose a single copper in gratifying their curiosity by staring at me.” The officers retreated in confusion.

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 22 October 1857, p. 1

This tale also shows Montez harnessing her capacity to be unconventional to good effect: the socially aggressive officers could not have anticipated her response, nor could they find any answer to it apart from retreat. Within weeks of her arrival, a Milwaukee-based journal offered the following evaluation of Montez’s character:

She is daring, reckless, if you will, and is unwilling to be bound down by the ordinary rules of the social compact. If a gentleman should insult her, she would shoot him, and not expect any one to do it for her.

Wisconsin Free Democrat, 21 January 1852

After four years supporting herself while cultivating her celebrity status in the United States, on 6 June 1855 Lola left her final residence in San Francisco for pastures new — boarding the Fanny Major bound for Sydney.


  1. For a most engaging use of press reports to forge a narrative of Lola’s American years, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez a Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 283-330. This blog has also conducted an independent investigation of America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex). All newspaper references in this blog are taken from this subscription resource.
  2. The Philadelphia Ledger returned to the subject of Lola whenever she became associated with violent scandal: see the article ‘Lola Montez and the Jesuits’ (3 May 1852) that reports on the forcible ejection of an Italian count from her suite at the Howard Hotel; the incident culminated in a pitched row between two groups of men that the paper was happy to report on while painting Lola as a vengeful harpy.
  3. These events are detailed in Seymour, pp. 268-279. While Seymour’s index tentatively attributes the poet Victor Mabille as Montez’s coach and choreographer, it seems far more likely that the dancer Charles Mabille (1816-1858) assumed this role.
  4. It is not possible to identify with confidence Lola’s contact from among several roughly contemporaneous actors known as Thomas Barry. The Irish actor-manager Thomas Barry (1743-1768) was born too late; Thomas Barry Sullivan (1821-1891) was not based in the US at the correct time. It is not known whether the Thomas Barry managing New York’s Broadway theatre in 1851 also managed a Boston theatre in 1856, see
  5. For the review of Montez see Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 18 March 1852. For the evaluation of Céline Céleste and her American dates, see J. Moody, 2006, Céleste [married name Céleste-Elliott], Céline [known as Madame Céleste] (1810/11–1882), actress and theatre manager. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 25 May 2023, from
  6. For Lola’s actions in Lake Geneva, see the Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), 1 August 1848; for the Philadelphia episode, see the Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 2 February 1852.
  7. For two of her challenges to men of the press, see the Albany Evening Journal, 18 August 1853 and 16 December 1854; for a charge of assault and battery raised in regards to the manager of the Varieties theatre, see the Mississippi free Trader of 26 April 1853.

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The next post will consider Lola Montez’s reception in Australia.

Historical biography Uncategorised

The fascinating Lola Montez: the European years

By Sarah McCleave

The 1820 birth in Limerick of a daughter, Eliza Gilbert, to the recently-wed 14-year old Eliza Olivier and ensign Edward Gilbert would seem to augur nothing more than the swift maturation of a very young mother. And yet Eliza the younger would grow up to become one of the most notorious actress-dancers of the mid-nineteenth century. By adopting an entirely spurious Spanish identity as Lola Montez, this flamboyant Irishwoman cultivated an unconventional performance style and a completely unfettered persona both on and off stage. Her subsequent travels across three continents left a trail of abdication, bigamy, and scandalised spectators in her wake, exerting a fascination on the press and the public that has retained some traction even into the twenty-first century. This first in a series of blog posts will cover her youth and European career.

Eliza’s metamorphosis into the famed Lola Montez could not have been predicted. She was not born into a theatrical family – indeed, her mother, Eliza the elder, was the youngest of four children born of the Cork-based M.P. Charles Silver Olivier and one Mary Green. Olivier married an heiress the year Eliza was born (1805), but arranged that she and her elder sister were bound to a milliner so they could support themselves. Eliza instead fell for the British officer Edward Gilbert, whose own origins are unknown – but in any case his family had no contact with his young wife or daughter, for he and his young wife remained in Ireland until the toddler Eliza was around three years of age, at which time Gilbert arranged to join the Forty-fourth Foot Regiment in India. He would die shortly after arriving in India; in 1824 the widowed Eliza -married a young Scottish lieutenant, Patrick Craigie. Craigie’s posting to Meerut near Dehli in 1826 was the catalyst for sending the child Eliza back to Britain, where she would be cared for by Craigie’s family in Montrose, Scotland. From that time, the young Eliza had a fairly conventional upbringing including periods at different boarding schools. She would not see her mother again until 1837, when the latter arrived to collect her from a school in Bath with a view to taking her back to India to arrange a marriage from within Craigie’s regimental contacts.1) But the teen-aged Eliza instead eloped with a shipboard acquaintance of her mother’s, the lieutenant Thomas James. This marriage did take her back to India for a spell, but the couple were deeply incompatible, and the young Eliza fled what had become a violent union to return to Britain in October 1840. Her shipboard romance with George Lennox (nephew of the Duke of Richmond) was sufficiently public to ruin Eliza’s reputation before she arrived in London — where they carried on the affair until the summer of 1841. Thomas James would consequently sue Eliza for divorce – on terms that did not permit her to re-marry.2)

As a divorced woman, Eliza James’s prospects at that time were few, particularly given her tattered reputation. In 1842 she undertook study in acting, and then dance, with a view to a career on the stage. Her decision to specialise in Spanish dance – which saw her travel to Cádiz to further her training in that national style – acknowledged the impracticality of developing the necessary skills of a classical ballet dancer given her age.3) She returned to England in April 1843 with an invented identity as Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez, using her powers of manipulation to gain the sympathy of James Howard Harris 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, who lobbied theatre impresario Benjamin Lumley of Her Majesty’s Theatre London to feature Signora Montez on his stage. Lola made her stage début in London on 3 June 1843, in a carefully prepared début that saw Lumley invite the critic of the Morning Post to a rehearsal to garner support.4) Lola was duly given an advance billing in that paper (3 June 1843) as being “of the Teatro Real in Madrid”. The London Standard (5 June 1843) also gave a favorable review, describing the dancer as “the perfection of Spanish beauty” before describing her performance of a pas de caractère entitled ‘El Oleano’:

Presently this Andalusian Papagena lifts her arms, and the sharp merry crack of the castanet is heard. She has commenced one of the dances of her nation, and many a picquant grace does she unfold. She seems to extemporise a series of beautiful gestures. each delineating some saucy fancy, and involving a grouping of the limbs charmingly harmonious in design. Now she is haughty, scornful, and assuming, with her figure erect and majestic — now does she stoop on one knee and curve her arms in laughing, mockery over her head. She stamps pettishly with her foot, advances eagerly, then recoils– described quaint half circles with her foot, and archly salutes the house by tapping her castanets merrily together. As a matter of course she is encored, and the second dance appears, if possible, more capricious and prettily wilful than the first.

Standard (London), 5 June 1843, from 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

The critic went on to locate the débutante’s skills within the then-current schools of theatre dancing:

She is evidently a superior pantomimist, and understands the expression which may be evolved by bodily actions and the gesticulation of the limbs. Her play with her arms is quite beautiful, and the inflection of her wrists is free and graceful in the extreme. There is nothing angular in her posturing; her frame seems subservient to an artist-like will, and a suggestion is embodied with an immediate definition of elegance. Such an exhibition as El Olano [sic] of course does not develope [sic] the qualities of exhibitory dancing; it is essentially a pas de caractere, and its requisitions are of the body rather than of the feet; but it may be presumed that the dona has accomplishments even in this direction worth looking at. She has not quite the refinement of Fanny Elssler in her mode of executing the character steps, but she has an equal bouyancy [sic] of manner, and can present phases of satire and frolic to the eye just as happily. We have yet to see whether the comparison may be continued as regards the solemnities and activities of a pas seul

Standard (London), 5 June 1843, from 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

All too soon Lola’s identity as the infamous adulteress Mrs James was recognised, and Lumley withdrew his support. Lola subsequently travelled across Germany – lobbying theatres and members of the nobility directly to gain opportunities to perform. She was a unruly guest to Prince Heinrich of Hamburg before moving on to theatres in Dresden and then Berlin.5) On her return to the German principalities from Warsaw and St. Petersburg she had a brief dalliance with the celebrated composer and pianist Franz Liszt (1844).6) Lola performed very briefly at the Paris Opéra, and also at the theatre Porte St. Martin. Attempts to establish herself in Paris were limited by her lack of technical capacity although her beauty and capacity to entertain were admired.7) Le Ménestrel was prepared to describe her appearances elsewhere as ‘successes’ and to acknowledge the preparations she made towards her 1844 début:

Mlle Lolla Montez se préparer par un travail de tous les jours sous la direction de M. Maze, ancien premier danseur de l’Opéra, à de nouveaux débuts. Cette second épreuve vaudra sans doute à la jeune et belle danseuse la confirmation des succès de Pétersbourg, Varsovie, Lisbonne, Londres, Berlin et Dresde. — Paris ne voudra pas avoir tort contre tant de capitales.

Le Ménestrel, 18 August 1844, p. 4 in RetroNews: La site de la press de BnF.

Lola’s prospects improved when she embarked on an affair with the influential journalist Alexandre Henri Dujarier, but her Paris interlude ended in tragedy when Dujarier was killed in a duel (March, 1846).8)

Lola then left Paris for the spas of central Europe, encountering Lizst again in Bonn. After an affair with diplomat Robert Peel ran its course, Lola formed the intention to seek employment in the theatres of Vienna. En route, she stopped in Munich – trusting that the 1846 Oktoberfest would yield some interesting opportunities.9) Here her conversational wit and her beauty utterly captivated King Ludwig I, and what was meant to have been but a brief sojourn extended to nearly 18 months, during which Lola did little dancing but spent rather more time stirring up social strife after Ludwig commissioned her portrait from Karl Joseph Stieler for his ‘Gallery of Beauties‘, installed her in a residence on the Barerstraße, and granted her the title of Countess of Landsfeld. By February 1848 Lola was driven from Bavaria, having been pursued by angry rioters incensed with the level of influence they perceived her to have over their King. By mid-March Ludwig I had abdicated, but his hoped for reunion with Lola was never to take place. Lola would eventually settle in Geneva for some months, before departing for London in November.10)

Lola Montez by Karl Joseph Stieler (1847), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unable to resume her theatrical career in city where her true identity was known, Lola eventually met a wealthy man eight years her junior, George Trafford Heald, and within weeks had contracted a bigamous marriage (on 19 July 1847) using her adopted identity. The resultant scandal compelled the couple to flee to the continent, but within three years they had parted ways (July 1850).11) Lola then sought to support herself through writing her memoirs (1851). She was also forming a plan to conquer America.


  1. For the biographical details of Lola’s family background and early years, see Bruce Seymour, Lola Montez: a Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991), pp. 1-15.
  2. For Lola’s first marriage, see Seymour, pp. 16-28. For the precise terms of the divorce, see Seymour, p. 31.
  3. Concerning Lola’s preparations for the stage, see Seymour, pp. 29-30.
  4. For Lola’s encounter with Malmesbury and Lumley’s preparations for her début, see Seymour, pp.32-34.
  5. For further on this period, see Seymour, pp. 43-57.
  6. Seymour appears to suggest that she targeted the musician as a contact before embarking on an affair with him that concluded with Lizst furnishing letters of introduction to his Paris contacts (pp. 65-70).
  7. Rabelais, 9 March 1845, p. 2 as reported in Seymour, p. 77.
  8. For Lola’s Paris period, see Seymour, pp. 71-84.
  9. The period between Paris and Munich is covered in Seymour, pp. 85-101.
  10. Due to a wealth of documentary evidence, Seymour devotes a substantial proportion of his monograph to Lola’s Munich period and subsequent exile, see pp. 95-242.
  11. Lola’s marriage to Heald, the consequent fallout with King Ludwig, and the couple’s shared European exile is covered in Seymour, pp. 243-275.

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The next post will consider Lola Montez’s reception in America.

Historical biography Uncategorised

Marie Sallé’s Portraits

Marie Sallé drawn by Nicolas Lancret, as published in Paris. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Marie Sallé (1709-1756) was an acclaimed French dancer who performed and created dances in venues as disparate as the Parisian foires, the patent theatres of London, and the Paris Opéra. She was the subject of a few portraits, two of which are of interest for the ways in which they were re-purposed after her retirement as a performer.

In 1732, after Sallé had reached the status of principal dancer at the Paris Opéra, her portrait was drawn by the fashionable artist Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743). The Sallé painting was engraved and published by Nicolas de Larmessin (1684-1755), at that time the French royal family’s official portraitist. Lancret places Sallé within a ‘genre scene’ rather than producing a traditional portrait. Sallé, holding an attitude with great elegance, is in an outdoor setting that includes a temple of Diana on one side and a bevy of accompanying dancers on the other. Why the temple of Diana? According to James Hall, ‘the stern and athletic personification of chastity, is only one aspect of a many-sided deity’,1 but it is most probably the aspect being evoked here. Lancret’s subject is not a reference to any known role of Sallé’s, but rather promotes her carefully cultivated personal reputation.2 Voltaire – who supported Sallé by writing letters of introduction for her during the early years of his own career – wrote about this portrait in his correspondence to the writer Nicolas-Claude Thieriot during April-May of 1732. Voltaire saw the portrait in Lancret’s studio,3 and expressed a general dissatisfaction with the English verse attached to it by John Gay and Alexander Pope (‘not convenient’); nor did he approve of the French verse by Pierre-Joseph Bernard (‘not good’).4 All the poets celebrate Sallé’s virtue, although Bernard would later go on to slander Sallé’s name in a privately-circulating verse.5

Verses by Alexander Pope and John Gay to accompany the Lancret portrait of Sallé
Verses by Pierre-Joseph Bernard to accompany the Lancret portrait of Sallé

The bilingual approach to the versification suggests that the dual publication of the engravings in both Paris and London was a plan from the outset. Sallé had performed in London during the 1730-31 theatre season and would return there for the 1733-34 and 1734-35 seasons, so her promotion through this elegant portrait would have been timely. Garnier’s engraving for the fraternal publishers Thomas Bowles II and John Bowles in London is a reverse of the original image.

Both the Paris (de Larmessin) and London (Garnier) engravings were re-purposed. A detail from de Larmessin (the figure of Sallé alone) would become – with the addition of some hand colouring – “Mlle. Sallé règne de Louis XV. d’après Lancret 1730” or plate 58 in an obscure series going by the title “Bureau des modes et costumes historiques.”6 Sallé’s name is still used in the title, although its function is simply to present her costume rather than celebrate her renown as an artiste.

The Garnier engraving also acquired colour in its afterlife as an image simply entitled ‘Dancing’. This was issued by the London-based publisher Robert Wilkinson sometime after he acquired John Bowles’s remaining stock on the latter’s death in 1779.7 Wilkinson evidently had found a niche in publishing images of theatre interiors and exteriors – the digital collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum London includes numerous such images as well as some of the publisher’s theatrical portraits. Wilkinson reissued images of theatre manager John Rich (1692-1761) as Harlequin and of the actor-manager David Garrick (1717-1779) under their own names, but appears to have decided that Sallé’s name would not prove a draw with purchasers over forty years after her final performance at Covent Garden Theatre.

The Lancret-Garnier engraving as reissued by Robert Wilkinson. Private collection.

Just as she was retiring from the Paris Opéra, a portrait of Sallé by Jean César Fenoüil was announced in the Mercure of January 1740. The image promotes Sallé as ‘La Terpsicore Françoise’: Terpsichore was the Greek muse of dance, and so this is a most fitting tribute to an acclaimed dancer at the end of her public career. Sallé’s biographer Émile Dacier makes a good case for the writer Titon du Tillet as a likely commissioner of this work.8 Sallé’s persona as a most virtuous woman is indexed in three ways.Verses by Paul Desforges-Maillard conclude by celebrating her expressive capacity as well as her self control: “Love is in her eyes, Virtue in her heart.”

Verses by Paul Desforges-Maillard on the dancer Marie Sallé. Copy: BnF.

The single turtle-dove in Sallé’s hand can evoke either chastity or love and constancy. The rose in her hair refers to an entrée ‘Les Fleurs’ which she created for Rameau’s opera-ballet Les Indes galantes (Paris Opéra, 1735). Sallé assumed the role of the Rose, queen of the flowers, who collectively endure an assault by the rude north wind Borée but are rescued by the gentle west wind Zéphire. Quite unusually, the action of this dance scene is supplied on the final page of the livret for the opera. Sallé may have wished to draw on the rose’s particular associations with the Virgin Mary — certainly the choice of flower by the painter is a reference to her role in the ‘Ballet des fleurs’ .

Marie Sallé as drawn by Jean César Fenoüil, engraved by Gilles-Edme Petit. Copy: BnF.

The engraver Petit repurposed this portrait, announcing the new work in the Mercure for July 1742 under the title “L’après-diné – la Dame à la Promenade“. Details such as a hat, necklace and bracelet have been added to the plate, while the attributions of artist and engraver have been retained but changed in format. The original engraving has: “Fenouïl pinxit” and “Petit Sculpt.”; the reissue has: “M.elle Sallé peint par Fenoüil” and “Gravé par Petit”. Before his death in 1761, an enterprising British engraver and seller John Tinney repurposed the image yet again as ‘Afternoon’ in a series of four images depicting the times of day. (According to the British Museum, the remaining three were taken from drawings by François Boucher.) ‘Afternoon’ is accompanied by a fresh poem that reflects its new function depicting a good wife in the afternoon of her life. Tinney retains the credit to the painter and Petit’s second title, while claiming for himself the role of engraver, ‘J. Tinney fecit.’

Verses under the John Tinney issue of Fenouïl’s drawing of Marie Sallé. Copy: British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

This re-purposing of images reflected the economic realities of the eighteenth-century print trade: engraved plates represented a considerable investment in time and money, and if they could be made to serve more than one purpose, so much the better. Sallé swiftly lost her celebrity status once she no longer performed at the Paris Opéra, and so the image represented more to its engraver Petit in its new guise. Sallé, although respected in her day as a performer and as a creator of dancers, appears to have lived a modest lifestyle – nor did her circumspect behaviour yield incidents which would render her of sustained interest on a personal level to a broader public.


1) Hall, James. ‘Diana’ in Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art second edition (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2008), pp. 105-106 (p. 105). The symbolic interpretations of turtle-dove and rose in this blog are also derived from Hall.

2) For further on Sallé’s reputation see Sarah McCleave, ‘Marie Sallé a Wise Professional Woman of Influence’, Women’s Work: Making Dance in Europe Before 1800 (Studies in Dance History), edited by Lynn Matluck Brooks (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), pp. 160-182.

3) Voltaire to Nicolas-Claude Thieriot, 14 April 1732 (new style). Lettre 462, Voltaire’s Correspondence, edited by Theodore Besterman (Geneva: Institute et Musée Voltaire, 1953), vol. 2, pp. 299-301.

4) Voltaire to Nicolas-Claude Thieriot, 26 May 1732 (new style). Letter 476, Voltaire’s Correspondence, volume 2, pp. 320-321 (p. 320).

5) Reproduced in McCleave, ‘Marie Sallé’, p. 165. 

6) This is the only such plate I have discovered to date.

7) For Robert Wilkinson’s acquisition of Bowles’s stock, see the biographical note on the former at, accessed 7 December 2022.

8) Émile Dacier, Une danseuse de l’Opéra sous Louis XV. : Mlle Sallé (1707-1756) d’après des documents inédits (Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1909), pp. 231-32. For a chatty letter from Sallé to du Tillet dated 27 October 1742, see Dacier pp. 243-247.


‘Mlle Sallé’, drawn by Nicolas Lancret, engraved by Nicolas de Larmessin. (Paris: Lancret and de Larmessin, [1732-1735]). Copy: Bibliothèque nationale de France/Gallica. Public domain.

Alexander Pope and John Gay, “I know her now”. Detail from ‘Mlle Sallé’, drawn by Nicolas Lancret, engraved by Nicolas de Larmessin. (London: Thos. Bowles and I. Bowles, [1730s?]). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Pierre-Joseph Bernard, “Maitresse de cet Art”. Detail from ‘Mlle Sallé’, drawn by Nicolas Lancret, engraved by Nicolas de Larmessin. (London: Thos. Bowles and I. Bowles, [1732-1767]). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

‘Dancing’, drawn by Nicolas Lancret. (London: Robert Wilkinson, [1779-1827]). (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Paul Desforges-Maillard, “Les Sentimens aves les Graces”. Detail from ‘Mlle Marie Sallé La Terpsicore Françoise’, drawn by Jean-César Fenoüil, engraved by Gilles-Edme Petit. (Paris: Petit, [1742]). Copy: Bibliothèque nationale de France/Gallica. Public domain.

‘Mlle Marie Sallé La Terpsicore Françoise’, drawn by Jean-César Fenoüil, engraved by Gilles-Edme Petit. (Paris: Petit, [1742]). Copy: Bibliothèque nationale de France/Gallica. Public domain.

Anonymous, “With glowing warmth the day descends”. Detail from ‘Afternoon’, drawn by Jean-César Fenoüil, engraved by John Tinney. (London: J. Tinney, [1740s-1761]). Copy: British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Next post

The next post will consider the Irish dancer Lola Montez (1820-1861).

Historical biography Uncategorised

The Celebrity Dancer Marie Madeleine Guimard

By Sarah McCleave

Marie Madeleine Guimard, Eugène Gervais after François Boucher. Source: BnF/Gallica.

Marie Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816) began her professional career as a member of the corps de ballet at the Comédie Française in 1758; within four years she was appointed to the Paris Opéra as danseuse seule en double et figurant. Guimard’s début season for the Opéra saw her assume the role of Terpsichore in Colin de Blamont’s ballet héroïque Les Fêtes grecques et romaines; her rendition of the muse of the dance was subsequently immortalised in Jacques-Louis David’s charming portrait taken in the mid 1770s. In 1766 Guimard – celebrated for her unparalleled grace and refinement as a performer – was promoted to danseuse seule. By the late 1760s she had also become a Parisian celebrity who exerted a particularly strong fascination on her public and the press until she retired in 1789.1 Guimard was highly visible as a talented performer, as an indulged mistress of powerful and well positioned men, as a society hostess, and as a fashion plate –- but also as a philanthropist, patron of the arts and workplace activist. These identities stimulated distinct responses from artists and writers that promoted and prolonged her celebrity status.

‘Mlle Guimard dans le ballet du Navigateur’. Source:
New York Public Library

Guimard created some of her most noteworthy roles in the 1770s and ’80s. As the young and innocent Nicette in Maximilien Gardel’s La Chercheuse d’Esprit (1778) she avoids an unappealing mercenary match intended by her mother, instead acquiring the youthful and sympathetic Alain as her fiancée. Guimard’s performance impressed Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm with her spirit, delicacy, and natural grace.2 In Gardel’s Le premier navigateur, ou Le pouvoir de l’amour (26 July 1785) Guimard assumed the role of shepherdess Mélide. Newly wed to her beloved shepherd Daphnis, Mélide is separated from him in a great storm, and finds herself on a deserted island. Guimard’s affecting performance of the shepherdess’s utter despair (Act III, sc. 1) is captured in the print featured here. The accompanying verse declares that the virtuous, spirited and generous character of the dancer is united with a grace even more lovely than her beauty.

Elle unit les vertus, l’esprit et la bonté

A la grace plus belle encor que la beauté

Guimard attached herself to men of power and influence; her associations arguably strengthened her position within the Paris Opéra, and demonstrably enabled her to live a life of artistic influence and luxury up until the French revolution. Her artistic liaisons included Hyacinthe, the ballet master of the Paris Opéra’s dance academy; the composer Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, first gentleman in waiting to the King; and the dancer-choreographer Jean Dauberval. Her wealthy supporters included Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise and Jarente, Bishop of Orléans. The former’s wealth enabled the dancer to commission a luxurious Hôtel (completed 1770) designed by the King’s architect Claude Nicholas Ledoux. Soubise’s largesse enabled Guimard to establish herself as a society hostess who held thrice-weekly dinners, each for one of three distinct groups: men of influence; the artistic community; and a ‘fast set’ who wanted to indulge in all the sensory pleasures in luxurious surroundings.

A caricature of Guimard as voluptuous hostess to ‘Le Concert à Trois’ would seem to be a comment on her well-funded lifestyle – which typically was supported by more than one lover at a time. The verses attached to the exemplar held by the Institute nationale de l’histoire de l’art (INHA) expand on the charms of each male serenader:

Remarquons ce concert à trois
Quel accord! quelle intelligence!
Le financier Mondor fier d’en dicter les loix
La main sur la pochette en marquer la cadence.

L’Officier robuste, au poulmon vigoureux
Donne du cor avec beaucoup d’adresse
Jeune encore, mais flatté par un succès heureux
Le jauvenceau Damis, sur sa flûte s’exerce.

Anon., ‘Le Concert à Trois.’ Paris: Martinet, n.d.
Institute national d’histoire de l’art (INHA),, accessed 24 January 2023.

For those familiar with Guimard’s exploits, the ‘financier’ would be Soubise, the ‘officier robuste’ would be the dancer Dauberval, and the musician likely LaBorde. Guimard’s biographer Edmond de Goncourt – drawing on the Mémoires secrets volume 19 – suggests as much. But he describes a version of the print where the musician (Laborde) is brandishing a conductor’s baton, whereas the INHA exemplar sports a flautist. And the horn player (Dauberval) would in another exemplar (inspected by Goncourt) be replaced with a cleric labelled as the abbé de Jarente.3

Source: BnF/Gallica.

With the addition of these verses (not mentioned in Goncourt) we may have yet another version of this caricature. These can be read in reference to Guimard’s title-role in Gardel’s 1779 ballet Mirza, where she plays the daughter of a south-sea island’s Governor, going by the name of Mondor. (Mondor was played by Dauberval.) The French military  – in which Mirza’s husband Lindor serves as an officer –

must quell an uprising of the native ‘savages’; the intercession of the wife of their chief (Mlle Heinel) saves Mirza, who in turn implores her father for clemency, thus saving the life of the ‘savages’’ chief. In the fourth act there is a festival that opens with cannon shot accompanied by military instruments, followed by a ‘Symphonie à grand Orchestre’. Mondor conducts a party of the French dignitaries to a banquet, in which a chorus celebrates the beauty and grace of Mirza, as well as her capacity to cultivate l’amitié.

And yet the names of the male figures in the caricature’s verses map even more closely onto a one-act comedy, Le Faux-Seing, ou l’Adroitte Soubrette, written by Agricol Lapierre-Châteauneuf and performed in Marseille, Avignon, and other locales in 1787. This publication of its text was announced in the Journal des théâtres for 28 January 1795. Lisette (the adroit soubrette) is trying to counsel the youthful and timid Damis in his suit of Lucile, who risks being affianced to the rich Mondor at the desire of her mother. Mondor dismisses the suit of his young rival in front of Lucile; the situation escalates until epées are nearly drawn and Lucile is obliged to separate the men. Damis cedes to Mondor. Lucile – who does not wish to marry Mondor under any circumstances – makes her mother promise not to force a choice of spouse on her. Lucile’s mother tells Mondor she will not oblige the marriage; he produces gold in the firm hope that financial inducement will grant his wishes.

‘Le Concert à trois,’ detail. Source: INHA/Gallica.

The glasses worn by the Mondor character in the caricature are key to the next scene, in which due to the inadequacy of his lunettes he has Lisette write a letter to Lucile at his dictation, declaring his love and offering her his worldly goods. Lisette even signs the letter, putting the name of ‘Damis’ to it. Damis disavows the missive but is sufficiently emboldened to kiss Lucile’s hand. The piece ends with Mme Lisimon uniting the lovers and Mondor retiring in indignation. The critic reviewing the publication notes the similarity with this work’s Mondor and a character of the same name in  Fausses Infidélitiés; Damis was likely inspired by le Timide, a comedy written by Paschali that was performed at the theatre of the Variétés (renamed the theatre of the Republique) six or seven years previous.4

Guimard was not directly connected with any of these works (apart from Mirza), but they add a context in which this caricature could have been understood by her contemporaries – who may have been tempted to compare her lovers with popular fictional characters. The penciled identification of ‘Mlle Guimard’  as the subject implies that at least one viewer readily associated the dancer with a situation where a voluptuous and well-off woman appears to be courted by three different men – each having different attributes to recommend them. Since 1789, Guimard had been married to the musician-dancer-writer

‘Le Concert à trois’ detail. Source: INHA/Gallica.

Jean-Étienne Despréaux, who may be represented by the ‘young still, flattered by a happy success’ flautist Damis in this print. Despréaux – some 15 years Guimard’s junior – would prove a congenial companion for her retirement years, notwithstanding that the couple would lose their court-established pensions and lived in very straightened circumstances during their final years together.

Although cast in ‘Le Concert à Trois’ as a good time girl relishing her life of luxury, Guimard was also known for her generous spirit and her capacity to use her good fortune to help others. March 1768 had seen a remarkable frost in Paris that brought attendant suffering with it. Guimard extracted 6000 francs from her lover Soubise (in lieu of an expected present of jewellery), added 2000 francs of her own money, and used these funds to distribute – in person – food and other necessities to the poor of her parish.3 This act of charity by a celebrated artiste from the Paris Opéra was the subject of a flattering caricature ‘Terpsicore charitable ou mademoiselle Guimard visitant les pauvres’ by an unknown contemporary. While we could dismiss this effort as a publicity stunt, Guimard’s actions at other junctures in her life display a genuine philanthropic spirit.

‘David chez la Guimard.’ Private collection.

For example, she was a noted benefactor of artists. At the most direct level Guimard commissioned art work – such as the bust sculpture of herself by Gaetano Merchi (1747-1823) rendered in 1779. Her support of the young painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) extended to supporting his study abroad; this relationship remained of sufficient interest to become a featured illustration for the 1894 Christmas edition of L’Illustration.

Guimard – whose celebrity was largely extinguished by the turbulent events and the harsh values of the Revolution – again became a subject of reprinted images and magazine features from the mid nineteenth century. In a cultural milieu where the history of dance was a matter of interest, she regained some visibility due to her iconic status as the leading female dancer of her generation.


‘Marie Madeleine Guimard.’ 1840. Eugène Gervais after François Boucher. [Paris]: F. Chardon aîné. Source: BnF/Gallica. Accessed 24 January 2023.

‘Terpsichore charitable.’ 1780. A Paris, chez M. Delaporte, cour du Commerce, rue des Cordeliers. Source: BnF/Gallica. Accessed 13 Dec. 2022. No artists are identified, either on the print or in the catalogue record.

‘Mlle Guimard dan le ballet du Navigateur.’ [1787]. Jean-François Janinet after André Dutertre. [Paris]. Source: New York Public Library. Accessed 29 January 2023.

‘David chez la Guimard.’ 1894. L’Illustration Numéro de Noël, Décembre, p. 9.


  1. Ivor Guest suggests that “by 1768 she had become a celebrity in the Parisian social world”. See Ballet of the Enlightenment (London: Dance Books, 1996), p. 36.
  2. “Elle a mis dans le rôle de Nicette une gradation de nuances si fine, si juste, si piquante, que la poésie la plus ingénieuse ne saurait rendre les mêmes caractères avec plus d’esprit, de délicatesse et de verité.” Friedrich Melchoir, Baron Grimm in Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique adressée a un souverain d’Allemagne depuis 1753 jusqu’en 1769. (Paris, 1813), vol. 4, p. 199.
  3. Edmond de Goncourt, La Guimard (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, [1893]), pp. 56-58; 260-261.
  4. ‘Théatres des départemens’, Journal des théâtres, 1795-01-28, pp. 324-330. Source: Gallica, accessed 15 Dec. 2022.
  5. This anecdote is related in Grimm, Correspondance littéraire, Vol. 5, pp. 549-551. Grimm assures his readers that the details of the story were verified with the police.

Next Post

The next post will consider the dancer-choreographer Marie Sallé (1709-1756).

Historical biography Uncategorised

The Celebrated Life of Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo

By Sarah McCleave

Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo (1710-1770) is acclaimed as a female dancer who took on the most challenging aspects of contemporary dance technique, displaying a capacity to render jumps, entrechats (jumps with crossed feet), turns and beaten steps at a level normally confined to her male peers. Initially trained by her father in her native city of Brussels, the support of the Princesse de Ligne took Camargo to Paris where she studied under the famous Françoise Prévost. Father and daughter assumed a joint appointment at the theatre in Rouen before returning to the Paris Opéra in 1726 where Marie-Anne enjoyed a glittering career spanning 25 years – interrupted by a six-year sabbatical (1734/5-1740) at the behest of her then lover Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Clermont. Camargo rounded off her career with engagements at each of London’s patent theatres, dancing at Drury Lane theatre during the 1750-51 season and at Covent Garden theatre for the following two seasons.

It would be easy to fill several blogs with tales from Camargo’s colourful private life, but this would be to overshadow her considerable professional achievements.1 Of the anecdotes surrounding her, that of an early triumph at the Paris Opéra is worth repeating because it encapsulates the traits for which she became famed as a performer. The event occurred when she was a young dancer, and had been relegated to the corps de ballet notwithstanding a highly successful début on 5 May 1726. Camargo saw an opportunity when David Dumoulin missed his entry for a solo as a demon. According to the musicologist and critic François-Henri-Joseph Blaze (1784-1857):

Mademoiselle de Camargo, with a sudden inspiration that animated her, quit her rank, and launched herself into the middle of the theatre where she improvised the steps of Dumoulin, dancing with verve and with fancy, carried away by the admiration and enthusiasm of the spectators.2

Castil-Blaze, La Danse et les Ballets depuis Bacchus jusqu’à Mademoiselle Taglioni, p. 193.

Unlike her contemporary Marie Sallé, Camargo’s name seems to have resurfaced repeatedly after her retirement: she was the inspiration (title-role) for a number of comic operas or ballets in both France and Italy3; the naming of the Camargo society – an organisation founded in 1930 to foster British ballet – demonstrates that her legend resonated some 150 years after her death. This blog will consider Camargo’s fame as evidenced in portraiture.

The best known image of Camargo is the 1731 portrait drawn by Nicolas Lancret; it conveys some of the lightness and elevation of her dance style. By placing the dancer in a fête champêtre, Lancret draws on the pastoral associations of the locale and its attendant musician-shepherds to frame Camargo as that most available and willing of mythological females, the nymph. But Lafaye’s verses beneath the painting bring us back to Camargo the professional4: they are written in the first person, giving the dancer agency to claim her own originality and a technique matching that of two illustrious male dancers of the day, Jean Balon (1676-1739) and Michel Blondy (1676-1739).

Fidele au loix de la cadence

Je forme, au gre de l’art, les pas le plus hardis

Originale dans ma danse

Je peux le disputer aux Balons, aux Blondis.

Lancret’s genre painting was engraved by at least four artists. The original issue was engraved by Laurent Cars and published in Paris.5 Garnier subsequently engraved a reversed image for London-based fraternal publishers Thomas Bowles II (c.1695-1767) and John Bowles (1701?-1779). This image included the original verse in French as well as a new poem in English.

Detail from Lancret as engraved by Garnier. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The British Museum holds an exemplar of the Lancret (dated between 1730 and 1743) where the engraver and also the publisher chose to remain anonymous; this is thought to have been produced without consent during Lancret’s lifetime, and was the subject of a lawsuit.6 Francis Vivares (1709-1780) also engraved Lancret’s genre painting of Camargo for publication in London; the British Museum describes him as “one of the main links between the French and British print trades”.7 The British Museum dates this particular engraving (no image is available) very broadly between 1730 and 1780, noting that it is “reduced” from the Cars. Also reproduced is part of the verse, which is either a translation of a close paraphrase from LaFaye’s lines for the Lancret: “An original in my dance… The boldest steps wth. justice trip the ground.”8 It seems likely that the print would have been published during Camargo’s tenure as a dancer at the two patent theatres in London (so between September 1750 and May 1753), but this is conjecture.

Camargo was the subject of a half-portrait drawn by Jean Marc Nattier ( 1685-1766); this was subsequently “Printed in Paris, Published by Manzi, Joyant & Co.” The New York Public Library assigns this print a tentative date between 1890-1899; the biographical note for Manzi-Joyant supplied by the British Museum could suggest a date of 1907 or later, as the firm prior to that date was known as Jean Boussod, Manzi, Joyant & Cie. If so, this print of a dancer last active in 1753 was judged a commercial proposition for a printer to issue under Camargo’s name some 250 years after her retirement.

Nearly 50 years after her death, Camargo became the subject of a hand-coloured engraving, depicting her mid-step with her right arm raised. Drawn by Louis-Marie Lanté (1789-1871), it was engraved by Robert William Smart (1792-c.1832) and published by the London-based firm S. & J. Fuller on 1 April 1829. Lanté is best known as “the most prolific designer of the famous Journal des Dames et des Modes for which he drew fashion figures in watercolor”; he exhibited at the Paris Salons between 1824 and 1838.9 Another copy of this image, engraved by Georges Jacques Gatine (1773-after 1841) and bearing the title ‘La Camargo 1760’, is coloured differently although the pose of the dancer and the costume (apart from the colour) are identical. The Victoria and Albert Museum give the publication date of this print as “first half 19th century”.10

Such was her sustained celebrity that the famous Lancret fête champêtre was engraved afresh (in reverse, as a reduction) in the late nineteenth century by Edmond Hédouin (1820-1889); Gallica gives 1880, or 110 years after the dancer’s death, as its publication date. Lancret had also drawn a half-length portrait which would later be engraved by Eugène Gervais (1846-1880) and published in 1865. Both these posthumous prints bear the name of their subject, which suggests that Camargo remained a vivid cultural memory who could still intrigue and interest the public long after her death.

Camargo drawn by Lancret, engraved by Eugène Gervais. Source: BnF.


  1. Readers looking for a lively and imaginative account of Camargo’s life and times can easily acquire a modern reprint of Gabriel Letainturier-Frandin’s 1908 bo0k on this dancer, which amplifies some verifiable benchmarks and relationships in the dancer’s career with a wealth of imagined scenarios — complete with dialogue. For a reliable biography see Régine Astier (1998), ‘Camargo, Marie’ in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen et al, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2. “Mademoiselle de Camargo, qu’une inspiration soudaine vint animer, quitte son rang, s’élance au milieu du théâtre, improvise le pas de Dumoulin, danse de verve et de caprice, et transporte d’admiration et d’enthousiasme les spectateurs.” Castile-Blaze (1832). La Danse et les ballets depuis Bacchus jusqu’à Mademoiselle Taglioni, reprinted by Hardpress, 2019.

3. Theatre works inspired by Camargo include: La Camargo choreographed by Ippolito Montplaisir (Milan, 1868; revived Venice 1871; Turin 1871); Charles LeCoq’s La Camargo, opéra comique text by A. Vanloo et E. Leterrier (Paris, 1879); La Camargo ballet pantomime written by Judith Gautier and Armand Tonnery (Paris, 1893). The Archives Nationales (Paris) in a folder labelled “Manuscrits de livrets refusés, 1830-1863” (pressmark AJ/13/199) includes the rejected script for “la Camargo / ballet pantomime / en/ Deux actes / et cinq tableaux / par/ André de Bussy.”

4. The author of the verse is identifed by Voltaire in a letter to Nicolas-Claude Thieriot dated 14 April 1732. See Lettre 462, Voltaire’s Correspondence, edited by Theodore Besterman (1953). Geneva: Institute et Musée Voltaire. vol. 2, pp. 299-301.

5. Henry Bromley’s A Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits lists the Cars engraving and also an unspecified image by G. Bickham. Bromley does not clarify whether this attribution was to the engraver George Bickham the elder (1684–1758) or the print-maker and publisher George Bickham the Younger (c. 1706-1771). Bromley, Henry [1793]. A catalogue of engraved British portraits, from Egbert the Great to the present time. Consisting of the effigies of persons in every walk of human life; as well those whose services to their country are recorded in the annals of the English history, as others whose eccentricity of character rendered them conspicuous in their day. With an appendix, containing the portraits of such foreigners as either by alliance with the Royal Families of, or residence as visitors in this Kingdom, or by deriving from it some title of distinction, may claim a place in the British series Methodically disposed in Classes, and interspersed with a number of Notices Biographical and Genealogical, never before published. By Henry Bromley. Printed for T. Payne, Mews Gate; J. Edwards, Pall-Mall; W. Otridge and Son, Strand; and R. Faulder, New Bond Street, MDCCXCIII. [1793], p. 432. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, accessed 9 Dec. 2022.

6. See Part 4 of Emmanuel Bocher (1877). Les Gravures françaises du XVIIIe siècle, ou Catalogue raisonné des estampes, eaux-fortes, pièces en couleur, au bistre et au lavis, de 1700 à 1800, as cited by the British Museum:, accessed 12 December 2022.

7. See, accessed 9 December 2022.

8. See, accessed 9 December 2022.

9. Wolfs Gallery,, accessed 9 December 2022.

10., accessed 9 December 2022. The biographical note for Georges Jacques Gatine by the British Museum gives his life dates as ‘1773-1841 after’, describing him as “Engraver and etcher, specialist in costume plates, mostly after Lanté.”

Next post

The next post will consider portraits of the dancer Marie Sallé (1709-1756).

Historical biography Uncategorised


Augusta Maywood (1825-1877?)

By Lynn Matluck Brooks

Franklin & Marshall College

As the early United States was forming its own cultural products, the ballet stage was dominated by French performers. The artistry, renown, and earnings of some of these imported ballerinas inspired young Americans with stage ambitions. Among these, Augusta Maywood became one of the earliest home-grown ballerinas of repute (see Fig. 1), debuting with a competitor to that title, Mary Ann Lee, in The Maid of Cashmere, as the opera-ballet La Bayadère was called in their joint season (December 1837 to January 1838) at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. The young dancers—Augusta was twelve, Mary Ann thirteen or fourteen—appeared in the opposing roles of Zelica/Zoloé (Maywood) and Fatima (Lee).[1] For the preceding year or two, they had been students of Philadelphia dancing master P. H. Hazard, who claimed Paris Opéra training. Both girls’ tuition under Hazard was paid for by Philadelphia theatre manager Robert Maywood. Augusta, born in New York City, was his adopted daughter (he married her actress-mother after Augusta’s parents divorced); she spent most of her youth in Philadelphia. Her exposure to the stage from childhood surely contributed to Augusta’s theatrical savvy, compensating for her short period of formal study. Charles Durang, an astute observer, remarked on her “natural abilities for agility and grace.” Another Philadelphia critic wrote that Augusta’s début “created quite a sensation in the public mind,” owing to her “precision” as a dancer, despite her youth, and her possessing “the mind and the science of the artiste.”[2]

Figure 1: Augusta Maywood as Zoloé, New York Public Library. Public domain.

Durang wrote, “Augusta Maywood really was a prodigy. […] At one bound this talented girl stood beside the best terpsichorean artistes that we had in the country.”[3] He shrewdly added that, “With the furore this precocious child of dance had elicited, it would have proved good policy, while the excitement raged, to have starred her through the country.” Instead, her parents hastened her to Paris to study at the Académie Royale, “losing the pecuniary rewards which a tour in the United States would clearly have gained.” But perhaps manager Maywood saw that, with the polish of the French academy and the lustre of a Paris Opéra début, the still-malleable Augusta would be unbeatable as the first and greatest ballerina the U.S. had produced. In Paris, “her improvement was wonderful,” Durang wrote, and she was granted a coveted début at the Opéra, which “resulted in a brilliant triumph.” A reporter for Philadelphia’s National Gazette obtained entry to “the dancing room of the Grand Opera” to see “the little prodigy who had aroused such just admiration” in her U.S. début.[4] He praised “the exhibition of her highly developed powers, that attracted yesterday,” on the Opéra stage, “the zealous admiration of her graceful associates, and excited, naturally enough, the vanity of her skilful master, M. Corallie [sic], principal ballet master in the Academie Royale.” Perceived as a modest, dutiful American daughter, Augusta, this commentator assured readers, showed “no vulgar display of person, no attitudinizing appeals to the coarse sensualist; she moves in a region far beyond this—where all is grace and beauty—realized as those ideas can only be, if ever, of the soft, swelling movements of a buoyant and exquisitely formed girl, whose look of youthful innocence dispels every unchaste vision.”

Paris critic Théophile Gautier saw Augusta differently at her Opera debut of 25 November 1839, when she danced in the canonical ballets Le Diable boiteux and La Tarantule.[5] He noted her “distinctive type of talent,” which revealed “something brusque, unexpected and fantastic that sets her utterly apart” from the stars or aspirants of that theatre. She “has now come to seek the sanction of Paris, for the opinion of Paris is important even for the barbarians of the United States in their world of railroads and steamboats.” Americans—be they “Indians” or entrepreneurs—were all, to the refined continental viewer, savage. Still, “for a prodigy, Mlle Maywood really is very good.” And, blending together his conceptions of American industrial drive and the barbaric U.S. population, Gautier found Augusta “very near to being pretty,” with her “wild little face, […] sinews of steel, legs of a jaguar, and agility not unlike that of a circus performer.” Beyond her wild animal qualities, she faced the Paris audience with perfect tranquility: “You would have thought she was simply dealing with a pit full of Yankees.” We can also gather from Gautier details of Augusta’s technical accomplishment: “almost horizontal vols penchés,” turns in the air, “tours de reins,” her “small legs, like those of a wild doe,” striding like Marie Taglioni’s. In December 1839, Augusta’s name appeared on the payroll of the Paris Opéra.[6]

The wildness Gautier perceived in La Petite Augusta won out in her nature over the “innocence” American commentators initially praised as they read their desires onto the young ballerina. In 1840, still a teenager, she eloped with her Paris Opéra partner, Charles Mabille (1816-1858), bore a child, abandoned husband and baby, and toured throughout Europe—Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, and Milan, dancing with the most renowned ballet stars in works by leading choreographers, often in starring roles. Augusta settled at La Scala, Milan, in 1849, ascending to prima ballerina assoluta there before retiring in 1862. She often danced in other Italian cities as well in this period but, apparently, Miss Maywood kept abreast of doings back home: among her many triumphs in Italy was her balletic staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, created soon after its U.S. dramatization (1853).[7] She also toured with her own ballet troupe and starred in her greatest hit, the ballet Rita Gauthier, by Filippo Termanini, based on Dumas’s La Dame aux camélias.

Figure 2) Maywood by Bedetti, NYPL. Public Domain.

Figure 3. Maywood in Rita Gaulthier by Bedetti. Biblioteca nazionale universitaria – Torino.

Although Robert Maywood joined Augusta in Italy while she was touring (sometime during the period between 1852 and 1855) and lived there at her expense for a few years, she eventually sent him back to the U.S. where he died in obscurity. But long before that point, U.S. commentators had excoriated Augusta’s independent streak, damning their former darling for abandoning her doting parents, then her husband and child, and yet somehow, infuriatingly, being rewarded with success. Philadelphia theatre manager Francis Wemyss wrote of his dashed hopes for an American theatrical model in Augusta: “She has deserted her husband, and the heartless letter in which she recommended her child to the care of its father, at the moment she was abandoning him for the arms of a paramour, proves that her heart is even lighter than her heels. The very brilliance of her opening in life has been her ruin; the stage again pointed at as impure and immoral”[7]—this the greatest of her sins for Wemyss. Augusta, “who would have been the pride” of the stage “as an American artiste—who had gained the highest honors abroad—has become its shame: and thus I draw the veil upon her and her crimes for ever, hoping she may never attempt to appear upon the stage of her native country again.” Durang’s condemnation was at least as indignant: “let us draw the veil of oblivion over our regrets, over her and her crimes. In her lovely villa on the beautiful banks of the Arno, in sunny Italy, where she resides in seeming happiness, she may yet die in the conscientious throes of a guilty heart.”[9]

Instead, Augusta retired to Vienna, where she taught dancing– later lived peacefully in a villa on Lake Como.


[1] This season is covered in Charles Durang’s History of the Philadelphia Stage, between the years 1749 and 1855, arranged and illustrated by Thompson Westcott (Philadelphia: Thompson Westcott, 1868), vol. 4, ch. 50-51; the Public Ledger newspaper, Philadelphia; and the same city’s Weekly Messenger. See also Costonis, Maureen, “’The wild doe’: Augusta Maywood in Philadelphia and Paris, 1837–1840,” Dance Chronicle vol. 17, no. 2 (1994): 123-48; and Winter, Marian H., “Augusta Maywood,” 118-37 in Chronicles of the American Dance, ed. Paul Magriel (1948; New York: Da Capo Press, 1978). Documents on Maywood are available at New York Public Library-Performing Arts, Dance Clipping File, Augusta Maywood, *MGZR.

[2] Dramatic Mirror (20 November 1841): 113.

[3] Durang, History, vol. 4, ch. 51, p. 147-48.

[4] “La Petite Augusta,” National Gazette (18 December 1838). The reference in the next line is to renowned choreographer and dancing master, Jean Coralli, with whom Augusta studied for a year and a half in Paris, along with her classes from another great artist of the ballet, Joseph Mazilier (Costonis, “The Wild Doe,” 129-30).

[5] Gautier, Théophile. Gautier on Dance, ed. and trans. Ivor Guest(London: Dance Books, 1986), 79-80. The ballets mentioned were created for Fanny Elssler: Le Diable boiteux (1836, Paris Opera), music by Casimir Gide, choreography by Coralli; La Tarantule (1839, Paris Opera), libretto by Eugene Scribe, music by Gide, choreography by Coralli.

[6] Augusta Maywood’s contract with the Paris Opéra for the period 1st December 1839 to 30th November 1840 is preserved at the Paris Archives Nationales, AJ/13/195, Personal dossier, “Maywood, Mlle.” Annotations on it reveal that her core salary of 1500 francs was doubled to 300o francs during the signing session that involved Augusta, her mother Louisa Maywood and Director-Entrepreneur Henri Duponchel.

[7] Parmenia Migel Ekstrom, “Augusta Maywood,” in Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 518.

[8] Wemyss, Francis. Twenty-Six Years of the Life of An Actor and Manager, v. II (New York: Burgess, Stringer and Co., 1847), 293.

[9] Durang, History, vol. 4, ch. 51, 148.


Fig. 1). “La petite Augusta, aged 12 years, in the character of Zoloé, in the Bayadère,” by E. W. Clay, New York, 1838. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed 22 May 2022.

Fig. 2.) “Augusta Maywood,” by Augusto Bedetti, Ancona, c. 1853. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed 22 May 2022.

Fig. 3). “Atto 1. nel ballo ‘Rita Gauthier’” by A. Bedett[i], c. 1856. Biblioteca nazionale universitaria – Torino – IT-TO0265, identifier: IT\ICCU\TO0\1860890.