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.

Next post

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.

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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.

Historical biography Uncategorised

Images of Emilie Bigottini


Émilie Bigottini (1784-1858) is an example of a dancer who successfully negotiated a complicated personal life and a glittering professional career. Born into a theatrical family, she studied at the ballet school of the Paris Opéra, joining its corps de ballet in 1801. Three years later she was promoted to soloist, becoming a principal dancer in 1813. Her moving performance in the title-role of Louis Milon’s Nina, ou La Folle par l’Amour (1813) is considered her “greatest triumph”.1 My interest in this dancer was piqued by reading some of her correspondence in the New York Public Library, which documents part of Bigottini’s dispute with the estate of Monsieur Casimir Louis Gousagne Marie Alphonse Ormand Pignatelly. Pignatelly was the father of her daughter Amadine Alphonsine (b. 10 April 1807). In a letter to a social contact (M. de Joli, mayor of Creteil) dated 23 July 1812 we learn that Bigottini is constrained from contesting the succession of  Pignatelly’s estate, designated to fall to his nephew. She notes that three-eighths of the estate has been set aside her their daughter – but verbally Pignatelly had indicated she would receive more than this. Referring to the ‘prejudice’ of Pignatelly’s executor, the dancer declares her intention to secure “an honourable existence” (une existence honorable) for herself and their daughter.2 Whether she secured a larger portion of Pignatelly’s estate or not, we can assume that Bigottini achieved her ultimate aim as her daughter – described as “a wealthy woman” – was subsequently to marry the respectable notary Jean Baptise Daloz in 1827.3 Sadly, Amandine would predecease her mother by some 25 years. Bigottini’s fortune at her death is reported as amounting to 3.5 million francs, which she used to set up a charitable foundation.4

Despite her financial status, Bigottini’s cares as a mother would continue: in a letter dated 14 June 1822 she wrote the Opéra management to serve notice that she could not perform due to the continued indisposition of her daughter.5 Bigottini’s correspondence reveals a side to the lives of many female dancers, particularly those with children born outside the institution of marriage. Futures had to be secured (a notably delicate matter in the case of a daughter), and care arranged. Bigottini had two additional children with General Géraud-Christophe-Michel Duroc and counted amongst her lovers Napoleon’s stepson Eugène de Beauharnais. Her biographer Bouvier prefers to emphasise the financial benefits Bigottini accrued through these relationships, but her correspondence reveals the worry and the work behind the apparent façade of easy comfort. Notably, Bigottini preferred to remain an active professional until the age of 39 rather than to retire early on the fortunes of her lovers.

Bigottini was the subject of several portraits. The image that best captures a vivacious personality in performance is Jacques Vallin’s depiction of her in the role of a bacchante – this can be discovered by scrolling through the online gallery of the Bowes Museum. Further personal portraits of this dancer exist — including a most elegant pencilled image of the dancer in motion drawn by Louis Lafitte (1770-1828). In this blog we will consider instead a selection of images that represent the institutional interests of the Académie Royale de Musique.

Online digital collections such as Gallica ( and the New York Public Library ( evidence the existence of various commercial series of images, promoted by the theatres of Paris and featuring their performance personnel. These series are particularly notable from the 1820s. The four costume prints show below have Godefroy Engelmann (1788-1839) as the lithographer. According to The Dictionary of Art, he was ‘instrumental’ in promoting and developing lithography in Paris from the mid 1810s until his death in 1839, so the Paris Opéra was paying for an accomplished artist.6 First we have Bigottini in the title-role of Clari, a ballet-pantomime by Louis Milon with music by Rodolphe Kreutzer first performed on 19 June 1820. Clari is the daughter of a rich farmer but has been kidnapped by the Duc Melville and brought up as his daughter. The ballet’s sub-title suggests its focus: ‘La promesse de la mariage’. Here we can compare Bigottini with one Mme Courtin. The most personalised aspect of these images is the evident difference to the dancers’ figures; Mme Courtin has a protruding bust while Bigottini does not. Clearly the interest lies in the costumes rather than the personalities of the dancers.

Image left: Bigottini in Clary (1820), lithograph G. Engelmann, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. Image right: Mme. Courtin in Clary, lithograph G. Engelmann, copy New York Public Library.

We also see Bigottini as Victor in Jean-Pierre Aumer’s ballet, Les pages du duc de Vendôme. This pantomime-ballet, with music by Adalbert Gyrowetz, opened at the Paris Opéra on 18 October 1820. Victor is the son of Marimon, an elderly Colonel. Engelmann’s rendition of Aumer in the title-role makes an interesting juxtaposition with Bigottini in her trousers role. The costumes are broadly similar, although Aumer’s has stronger lines while there is a softness to both Bigottini’s costume and her pose. Aumer’s boots are far more substantial, and he alone bears a sword.

My final selection for this blog shows Bigottini and her younger peer Lise Noblet (1801-1852) as drawn by Pierre Roch Vigneron (1789-1872) for a series ‘Collection du Corsaire’. Gallica describes ‘Le Corsaire’ as a publisher, but the print of Noblet was published by its lithographic printer, C. de Lasteyrie. These portraits appear very generic, conveying a limited sense of the personality or essence of the sitters; the backgrounds suggest a highly smudged outdoor locale that would have taken a minimum of trouble to produce. Presumably they were mass produced for the cheaper end of the art market. Gallica holds further portraits from this series, including artists from the Théâtre-Français and the Théâtre des Nouveautés, engraved by Engelmann, or by one Demanne.7 The artist and lithographer Vigneron was also apparently active as a portraitist for the ‘Collection du Courrier des Spectacles’, which produced thespian images in a similar style and format.  

The commercial reproduction of costume sketches as well as portraits by the third decade of the nineteenth century offers a proliferation of images related to performers in the Parisian theatres – particularly the Opéra. This kind of infrastructure was not in operation in London during the same period. Indeed, from our first post regarding Mlle Subligny we have drawn on this earlier development of performer portraiture in Paris. It is interesting to speculate what the visual legacy regarding Mlle Parisot might have been, had she remained in Paris rather than chancing her luck in London. Bigottini – who never danced in London – was at least spared the London satirists.


  1. Babsky, M. 2005. ‘Bigottini, Émilie.’ International Encyclopedia of Dance. www-oxfordreference-com.
  2. ‘Émilie Bigottini.’ Walter Toscanini Collection volume 3. New York Public Library.
  3. Petit-Konczyk, M. 2015. The Creators of the north France coastal forest from 1845 to 1885, p. 9. ResearchGate; see also Bouvier, F. 1909. Une danseuse de l’Opéra : La Bigottini. Paris: N. Charavay, p. 29.
  4. Bouvier, p. 32n2.
  5. ‘Émilie Bigottini.’ Walter Toscanini Collection volume 3. New York Public Library.
  6. ‘Engelmann, Godefroy.’ 1996. The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. London: Macmillan.
  7. Emilia Bigottini (1825), Mlle Quiney of the Académie Royale de Musique (lithographer Engelmann), Nicola-Baptiste Anselm of the Théâtre-Français (lithographer Demanne), and Mme Albert (Louise Albert-Himm) of the Théâtre des Nouveautés.

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

Historical biography Uncategorised

Mlle Parisot’s portraits


The tale of Mlle Parisot’s London reception holds two further images to consider. The featured image is a portrait drawn by Arthur William Devis (1762-1822). Depicting her in the guise of Hebe, goddess of Youth, it is a tribute to Parisot’s grace and elegance; although the beauty of her figure is evident, the painter appears to celebrate rather than exploit the dancer. A contemporary report, however, could not refrain from alluding to Parisot’s disreputable entourage:

Devis is engaged upon a Portrait of the beautiful PARISOT. It is to be a whole length, and there is already an active competition between old Q. [Lord Queensbury] and Lord G[rosvenor] who shall be the happy possessor.

True Briton, 10 June 1796

The nudge and wink of the newspaper notice may also point to a scheme to finance the portrait, which as a full-length image would normally be commissioned by a funder with deep pockets. Is it likely that an auction was intended to sell the original image? We can safely assume that Parisot herself did not commission it: her salary at 300 guineas per annum would not stretch to such luxuries and she was also reputedly supporting her mother and sister in France.1) And yet we can understand why she might want to encourage such an enterprise: Gillray’s satirical print of May 1796 – in which she appears as a saucy nymph encouraging the attentions of the married Didelot – would have been very damaging to her personal reputation. A serious portrait and its subsequent engravings could promote her on more flattering terms. For Devis, an artist who has recently returned from India, this project may have been imagined as a means to establish himself in a crowded London market. The connection to engraver and publisher John Raphael Smith (1751-1812) would have been particularly welcome, for the older artist was highly regarded in his trade, with a very successful publishing business. While Smith’s role implies an anticipation that the engravings of this prominent stage performer would sell well, finding a buyer for the original portrait would have been a bit of a gamble: the nearest precedent we have in the London art market of the period is the 1782 full-length portrait of Giovanna Baccelli by Thomas Gainsborough — but Baccelli was at that time living with John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, who commissioned or paid for at least two further portraits and a sculpture of that dancer during the course of their relationship. Parisot, according to the press of her day, stoutly discouraged the attentions of her elderly admirers so they lacked a lover’s genuine interest in commissioning the portrait. Grosvenor was in fact an avid art collector, but a surviving catalogue of his collection does not list any images of Parisot.2) Queensbury was better known for his interest in women and horses, and the extent of his art collection (if any) is currently unknown.

‘Mademoiselle Parisot’, Charles Turner after J.J. Masquerier, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum.

The racier image above, drawn by John James Masquerier, is a curious affair. According to the National Portrait Gallery, “John Masquerier was an accomplished portraitist who enjoyed a wide practice among the intellectual and artistic communities at the turn of the nineteenth century.” The bare bosom seems a direct reference to Parisot’s stage costumes rather than an inevitable feature of Masquerier’s style. (For comparison see his more respectful portraits of Emma, Lady Hamilton, or the actress/singer Rosoman Mountain, née Wilkinson.) Parisot’s bared teeth further suggests an intended salaciousness; it is difficult to credit that she would have willingly posed in this manner. Indeed, the portrait does not demonstrate the level of finish we find in the studio works by Masquerier, and it is plausible to speculate that he took a sketch of Parisot at the theatre, and when committing it to paint freely assigned a costume and facial expression that would maximise its commercial appeal amongst a certain clientele.

Parisot’s exploitation (this is a more apt word than ‘promotion’) in the visual arts is aptly conveyed by the image below, which conveys details of the bust portion of caricatures and portraits of herself and other female contemporaries as discussed in the blogs on this dancer. The Devis portrait suggests her artistic legacy; the remaining images tell us something of the times in which she lived.

  1. For Parisot’s salary, see the True Briton [1793], 21 Mar. 1796; for her family situation, see “News.” Oracle, 18 Aug. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale. Accessed 21 Sept. 2021.

2. Westminster, R. Grosvenor., Young, J. (1820). A catalogue of the pictures at Grosvenor house, London: with etchings from the whole collection. London: Pub. by the proprietor.


Devis, Arthur William (artist) and John Smith (engraver). 1797. “Mdlle. Parisot.” London. Harry Beard Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum. Accessed 21 April 2021. 

Masquerier, John James (artist) and Charles Turner (engraver). 1799. “Mademoiselle Parisot.” [London}: C. Turner. Harry Beard Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed 21 April 2021. 

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Emilie Bigottini will be the subject of the next post (March 2022).

Historical biography Uncategorised

The Caricature of Mlle Parisot by Newton


Two interesting points arise from a closer examination of Richard Newton’s caricature of Parisot. It would be natural to take at face value the engraved titling of this print:

Mademoiselle Parisot

Sketched at the Opera by Rd Newton

London Pub. by W Holland No. 50 Oxford St.
‘Mademoiselle Parisot’ by Richard Newton, © British Museum.

The impression in the British Museum adds the year 1796 but if you look closely (and you can!) you will see that the date is added in manuscript – though there is the ghost of an engraved date which certainly ends in a “6”. In the impression held in the Theatre Collection at Harvard the full date survives – “ … April 28 1796” though the “8” has been overwritten in ink to show an “0”. This is all very strange but if we apply George Chaffee’s dictum “Always read the image” I think we can explain away the anomaly in the engraved date.

If we look at the image – what do we see – we see Mlle Parisot dancing with two figures in the stage box but who are they? Well the British Museum impression, again in manuscript has the addition of “D. of Queensbury” and we might expect to see him as he appeared, and appeared readily identified, in a previous print which bears the titling “A Peep at the Parisot! with Q in the Corner!/ I Cruikshank / London Pub May 7 1796 by S.W. Fores No. 50 Piccadilly.” In that print he is also using a Dollond monocular to look up the dancer’s skirt. The second occupant of the box who is also observing the dancer through a glass is also readily identifiable – it is Shute Barrington (1734-1826), Prince Bishop of Durham – he whose intervention in a Lord’s debate on Divorce brought down a cascade of caricatures when he attacked French Opera Dancers

who by their allurement of the most indecent attitudes, and most wanton theatrical exhibitions, corrupted the people.

The Parliamentary Register, vol. 5 (London: J. Debrett, 1798). Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

The problem arises when we find that the noble prelate made his speech on 2nd March 1798, two years after the supposed engraving of the print!

I think that the solution is that Newton’s print was engraved in 1798 and fraudulently dated 1796 to match the Cruickshank caricature – subsequently the erroneous date was erased from the plate and in the case of the British Museum impression someone who knew of the existence of the earlier date simply attempted to restore it. It makes every pictorial sense that this print belongs with those of the well documented 1798 costume controversy.1

The Royal Collection contains a drawing which has been catalogued thus:

Mademoiselle Parisot, a ballet dancer, is watched by 2 old men, Duke of Queensbury and Barrington, Bishop of Durham (?). Copy of the print BM Sat. 8893.

I’m afraid I have not seen this drawing ‘live’ but (again through excellent internet access) I think that this is undoubtedly the original drawing by Newton for the print and not a copy made from it. It would make no sense to shift the figure in making a copy of the print and in any case the drawing is clearly very superior to the subsequent engraving and a most charming (and presumably more accurate) portrait of this dancer.

Detail of the Houghton Library copy of Newton’s ‘Mademoiselle Parisot’.

A Harvard impression gives “Oxford St April 20th [or 28th ] 1796″ which has been removed in the British Museum impression – I suspect that it was published in 1798 with a false date – hence its removal from the plate – why? Goodness knows.


  1. Rauser, Amelia. 2020. The Age of Undress: Arts, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s. Yale University Press, pp. 84-85. Editor’s note: This source betrays the conflation of events relating to Mlle Parisot in 1796 and 1798 as observed above by Cavers.

Next post

‘Portraits of Mlle Parisot’ by Sarah McCleave will appear on 27 February.

Historical biography Uncategorised

An Italian Prodigy Comes to London

Barbara Campanini, ‘La Barbarina’ (1721-1799)


On 15 October 1740, Barbara Campanini (billed as ‘La Barberini’) made her London debut at Covent Garden. The bills show her dancing with George Desnoyer and announce the performance as ‘the first time of her appearing on the English stage’.1 The performance was commanded by the King and attended by George II with his son Prince William and his daughters the Princesses Amelia, Caroline and Louisa. The bills do not tell us what the new Italian prodigy danced.

La Barbarina (as she is usually called) had, in fact, arrived in England some months earlier. She had made notable appearances at Cliveden on 1 and 2 August 1740 before Frederick, Prince of Wales and his wife Augusta. According to a report in the London Daily Post for 5 August 1740, the main entertainment was ‘a Dramatic Masque call’d Alfred, written by Mr. Thomson, in which was introduc’d Variety of Dancing, very much to the Satisfaction of their Royal Highnesses and the rest of the Spectators’. The royal couple were said to have been particularly impressed with ‘the Performance of Signora Barberini (lately arriv’d from Paris) whose Grace, Beauty, and surprising Agility, exceeded their Expectations’. Her engagement for these performances must surely have involved George Desnoyer, dancing master to Prince Frederick and his family.2

The Italian ballerina’s engagement by Covent Garden preceded her appearance at Cliveden for it was under discussion as early as December 1739.3 The Daily Gazetteer for 25 July 1740 printed ‘Part of a Letter from Mr. Rich to a Friend’ dated from Paris on 16 July 1740 which showed that an agreement had already been made:

Dear Sir,

I reached Paris on Friday last, and the next Morning went with your Friend Mr. — to pay a Visit to the Signiora Barberini: And not to enter into the Particulars of our Treaty, I shall only tell you at present, that we have agreed and signed Articles, and she sets out with me for England in four or five Days. I am, Sir,

Your Obliged Humble Servant,

John Rich

The Daily Gazetteer’s reporter added that the dancer ‘happens to be an Italian Beauty, who greatly surprised the French Nation with her elegant Performances in the Opera at Paris last Winter’.

Signora Barbarina had made her debut at the Paris Opéra on 14 July 1739 dancing in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Fêtes d’Hébé. The composer had written an entrée vive, a loure, a minuet and a gavotte to show off her virtuosity.4 Her debut was reported in the Mercure de France for July 1739:

La Dlle Barbarina, a young dancer from Parma, hardly sixteen years old, drew a great crowd, with an Entrée that she danced with many graces, as well as precision and lightness; she performed entre-chat à huit with surprising vivacity, and the style of her dancing is in the same line as Mlle Camargo.

The writer drew attention to her many attractions, adding that these allowed one to believe that ‘she would become a dancer of the first rank, if she wasn’t already’.5 In the August issue, the Mercure de France provided another report of Signora Barbarina’s dancing. This time she had given a pas de deux after Les Fêtes d’Hébé partnered by another Italian dancer (who was not named but was presumably her teacher Antonio Rinaldi, known as Fossano):

These two excellent sujets are generally applauded by an enormous crowd: it must be admitted that one could see nothing so surprising and singular as this pantomime and burlesque dancing.

These reports reveal that the dancing skills La Barbarina brought to London were both technical and expressive.

Barbara Campanini danced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre from October 1740 to April 1741, before returning to the Paris Opéra for some months. She was back at Covent Garden in October 1741 and stayed until May 1742, although she was absent from the stage from November until mid-January apparently because of illness. La Barbarina returned to London for the 1742-1743 season, dancing in the Italian operas at the King’s Theatre, her last stage appearances in England. For the purposes of this post, I will concentrate on her two seasons at Covent Garden.

Barbara Campanini was not the first Italian performer to come to London, although almost all her predecessors had been first and foremost exponents of the commedia dell’arte and not virtuosic dancers. She marked a change which would take root over subsequent decades.

Initially, the bills were silent as to the dances given by La Barbarina and Desnoyer, but on 3 November 1740 they were advertised in the duet Italian Peasants. This was easily their most popular dance, with at least 20 performances during the 1740-1741 season, and may have come from La Barbarina’s own repertoire. Italian Peasant dances quickly became established on the London stage, perhaps as a result of her performances. Also popular was the Tirolese or Tyrolean Dance ‘between a Hungarian and two Tyroleans’, first given by La Barbarina, Desnoyer and Haughton on 28 November 1740. This had twelve performances in 1740-1741 and another eight in 1741-1742, although it seems to have had no lasting influence in London. Was La Barbarina the Hungarian with the two men as the Tyroleans, or was the piece more complicated than that? The music for Italian Peasants and the Tyrolean Dance was included in the first volume of The Comic Dances by Johann Adolf Hasse and others published in 1741. The music for both of these dances has three sections, each with a different time signature, giving them the form of a short suite.

Over the course of her two seasons at Covent Garden, La Barbarina performed in some fifteen solo, duet or group dances as well as three afterpieces. Her solos included a Louvre, first given on 20 December 1740 and repeated a number of times during the season. It may, possibly, have been the dance she performed in Paris to Rameau’s specially composed loure for her in Les Fêtes d’Hébé. The duet Louvre ‘and Minuet’ that she performed several times with Desnoyer and others, almost always at benefit performances, was probably Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur which had become a favourite in London’s theatres. There was also her Tambourine, generally given as a duet with Desnoyer, which has attracted notice from several scholars in recent years.

While these dances may have come from, or been closely related to, La Barbarina’s own earlier repertoire, the group dance the Rural Assembly may have owed as much (if not more) to her partner Desnoyer. This ‘new Grand Ballet’ was introduced on 21 January 1742 within a performance of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It was subsequently performed within As You Like It and The Way of the World before settling into the entr’actes alongside a variety of mainpieces. Desnoyer was a ‘Chasseur’ supported by dancing ‘Pastors’ and Shepherdesses, while La Barbarina was a ‘Nymph of the Plain’ accompanied by a ‘Cottage Nymph’ (danced by her sister Signora Domitilla) with ‘Two Nymphs of the Vale and a Sylvan’. This ‘Grand Ballet’ had 26 performances between 21 January and 2 June 1742 but was not revived subsequently, probably because of the loss of its two leading dancers (Desnoyer retired from the stage at the end of the season, while La Barbarina returned to London only to dance at the King’s Theatre). The music, published in the second volume of Hasse’s Comic Tunes, again has three sections but seems too short to support what was apparently quite an ambitious divertissement if not a short pastoral ballet.

Over her two seasons at Covent Garden, La Barbarina appeared in three afterpieces. Pan and Syrinx, given on 16 and 17 December 1740, may well have been a small opera – perhaps that by Theobald and Galliard last given during the 1726-1727 season. Orpheus and Eurydice (first performed on 24 October 1741) was described in the bills as ‘a New Dramatic Entertainment of Dancing combin’d with a New Pantomime in Grotesque Characters’ in which she danced yet another Nymph. The Royal Chace was a popular pantomime, but according to the newspaper advertisements La Barbarina seems mainly to have performed her most successful entr’acte dances alongside it. Although, on 2 February 1741, she was billed as a Garden Nymph within the cast list and on 6 February the advertisements included ‘a new Dance between a Garden Swain and Nymph’ by her and Desnoyer. In all, she danced within or alongside The Royal Chace at 26 performances during 1740-1741.

How did Barbara Campanini dance in these entr’acte choreographies? In particular, what was it about her style and technique that provoked William Hogarth to depict her as well as Desnoyer so cruelly in his satirical sketch ‘The Charmers of the Age’?

‘The Charmers of the Age’, Richard Livesay after William Hogarth, Wikimedia Commons.

There is a question mark over Hogarth’s sketch, for the original does not survive and we have only an etching made nearly twenty years after the artist’s death. The sketch has been dated to 1742, when La Barbarina and Desnoyer were dancing together in London and Hogarth (presumably) saw them on stage. Although they are depicted side by side, they cannot be said to be dancing a duet for Hogarth shows them in quite different positions. Both are apparently jumping, but in such different styles that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Hogarth was simply exaggerating what he most disliked about their respective techniques.

Although he included the figure of Desnoyer in several other works, this was Hogarth’s only image of La Barbarina. She is shown in the air with her legs in a wide second position, which might relate to the modern step known as pas échappé or she could be executing an entrechat beginning and ending in that position – unless Hogarth was deliberately visualising her in a step from the Italian grottesco tradition that he had seen performed by others. The point of the image is actually the opportunity it provides for an obscene pun, with the artist capitalising on La Barbarina’s virtuosity to achieve this. Hogarth set out his views on dancing in his 1753 treatise An Analysis of Beauty. His preference was for ‘serpentine or waving lines’ rather than the rigidly straight limbs in ‘The Charmers of the Age’. He also gave as his opinion that ‘such uncouth contortions of the body as are allowable in a man would disgust in a woman’, suggesting that his sketch was also intended to reveal La Barberina’s dancing as too expansive and forceful – too masculine – for his taste.

During her career, the ballerina was the subject of several portraits. The best-known of these is probably the full-length, life-size portrait by Antoine Pesne, painted around 1745 not long after she had been engaged to dance for Frederick II in Prussia.

Portrait of Barbarina Campanini by Antoine Pesne. Wikimedia Commons.

La Barbarina is shown dancing in an elaborate dress overlaid with a leopard skin. She holds a tambourine aloft in her left hand and seems to be gesturing to it with her right. Her head is turned slightly to her right although she looks out of the canvas at her audience. Her feet and legs replicate those of La Camargo in Lancret’s famous portrait now in the Wallace Collection in London, although the positions of her arms and upper body differ. Was Pesne making a mute comparison between the two ballerinas, or had Camargo’s pose already been adopted as emblematic of a stage dancer? Apart from the energy and sense of movement in La Barbarina’s figure, Pesne’s portrait only hints at the ‘surprising Agility’ of this Italian prodigy that so disturbed William Hogarth.


1) Information about performances, including quotations, is taken from The London Stage 1660-1800. Part 3: 1729-1747, ed. Arthur H Scouten (Carbondale, 1965), unless otherwise indicated.

2) Moira Goff, ‘Desnoyer, Charmer of the Georgian Age’, Historical Dance, 4.2 (2012), 3-10.

3) For these earlier negotiations, which reveal that La Barberina was to be engaged for two seasons at Covent Garden, see Lowell Lindgren, ‘Musicians and librettists in the correspondence of Gio. Giacomo Zamboni (Oxford, Bodleian Library. MSS Rawlinson Letters 116-138)’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 1991, No. 24, 1-194 (pp. 175-176).

4) For the additional dances, see under ‘Campanini, Barbara’, in A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, edited by Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans (Carbondale, 1973-1993); also, see under ‘Barbarina, La’ in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen (New York, 1998). Study of the musical sources, however places the revisions before Barbarina’s arrival, ‘from 23 June [1739] with rev[ised]. 2nd entrée’; see under ‘Rameau, Jean-Philippe: Works’, by Graham Sadler and Thomas Christensen in Grove Music Online, retrieved 22 December 2021 from

5) Mercure de France, July 1739, p. 1632: ‘la Dlle Barbarina, jeune Danseuse de Parme, qui n’a pas seize ans accomplis, attira un très grand concours, par une Entrée qu’elle dansa avec beaucoup de graces, & plus encore de justesse & de legereté; elle passe l’entre chat à huit avec une vivacité surprenante, & son caractere de danse est dans celui de Mlle Camargo’, ‘qu’elle deviendra une Danseuse du premier ordre, si elle ne l’est déja’. Translations by the author.

6) Mercure de France, August 1739, p. 1850: ‘Ces deux excellens Sujets sont generalement aplaudis par un concours prodigieux: it faut avoüer qu’on n’a peut être encore rien vû, dans ce caractere Pantomime & burlesque, de si surprentant ni de si singulier’.

7) For Italian dancers in London, see Sarah McCleave, ‘Danzatori italiani a Londra nel settecento’, La Danza Italiana 3, ed. José Sasportes (2011), 63-136.

8) Johann Adolf Hasse, The Comic Tunes &c. to the Celebrated Dances. Book I (London, [1741]), pp. 16-21. See also Judith Milhous, ‘Hasse’s “Comic Tunes”: some dancers and dance music on the London stage, 1740-1759’, Dance Research, 2.2 (Summer 1984), 41-55.

9) The ballroom dance Aimable Vainqueur, choreographed by Guillaume-Louis Pecour to music from Campra’s opera Hésione, was first published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in 1701. It was regularly republished until 1765 and was often performed at benefit performances in London’s theatres until the 1770s.

10) For a short discussion of the tambourin with references to other accounts of the dance, see Samantha Owens, ‘“Grace, Beauty, and Surprising Agility”: Representations of Barbara Campanini, 1742-1748’, in With a Grace not to be Captured: Representing the Georgian Theatrical Dancer, 1760-1830, ed. Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp (Turnhout, 2020). Music and Visual Cultures 3, 105-119 (pp. 105-107).

11) Hasse, The Comic Tunes &c. Book II (London, [1741]), pp. 8-9.

12) The attribution to Hogarth is accepted by Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works (London, 1989), no. 153.

13) For the figure of Desnoyer in ‘The Charmers of the Age’ and other works by Hogarth, see Moira Goff, ‘The Celebrated Monsieur Desnoyer, Part 2: 1734-1742’, Dance Research, 31.1 (2013), 78-93 (pp. 89-90).

14) Raoul Auger Feuillet, Chorégraphie (Paris, 1700), p. 86, ‘Table des Entre-chats et demy Entre-chats’.

15) William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Ronald Paulson (New Haven, 1997), p. 110.

16) For a survey of the surviving portraits of Barbara Campanini, see Owens, ‘“Grace, Beauty, and Surprising Agility”’, pp. 113-119.


  1. ‘The Charmers of the Age’, caricature of Barbarina Campanini and Desnoyer. Richard Livesay (engraver) after William Hogarth. Published by Richard Livesay [London], 1 March 1782. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

2) Portrait of Barbarina Campanini by Antoine Pesne (Circa 1745). From the collection at Sans Souci Palace, Potsdam. Photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

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‘Watching the Nautch Girls of India’, by Aryama Bej, will appear in January 2022.

Historical biography Uncategorised

Four Weddings and a Funeral at St Paul’s Covent Garden

Mrs Clarissa Wybrow (Miss Blanchet) 1774 – 1826 


‘Mrs. Wybrow, [Charles] Hayter del.  –  [Richard] Cooper sculp’

It is certainly a mark of contemporary celebrity to have had a souvenir image to hand on to future generations, perhaps even more so in dance as it is in large part a visual medium; yet, there are many dancers, even important ones, who were famous in their day but have no identified pictorial remembrance. Mrs Wybrow, the subject of this blog, has a single known image preserved for posterity – though of course somewhere (if it survives) the original miniature by Charles Hayter (from which the engraving was made), may be hiding – and there may of course be further images as yet undiscovered.

Mrs Wybrow made her London debut on 1st July 1787, and in distinguished company: she was billed dancing with James Harvey D’Egville, his younger brother George, and Maria Theresa De Camp the niece of the formidable Madame Simonet, (she who danced Medea for both Vestris and for Noverre). Mrs Wybrow was then a young Miss Blanchet, and if her age (52) is given correctly when she died in 1826,1 she made her debut aged about 12. Since child dancers were generally introduced to the stage at around the age of 5 or 6, Clarissa Blanchet’s debut seems rather late; St Paul’s burial records indicate that she died aged 48, which would place her debut at the more reasonable age of 9 years. Miss Blanchet (sometimes Blanchett) was recorded as the pupil of Peter Daugeville, father of James and George, then Ballet Master at Drury Lane, however she had been formally indentured as an apprentice to Gabriel F Giroux ballet- master of the Theatre Royal Haymarket.2 None of her billing sports the “pupil of ” which commonly advertises a juvenile debut.

Juvenile dancers – often the children of performers – mostly had a direct connection to the theatre in which they performed. The ballet-master would begin their training for the stage and, with his own students, would form both a ready-made juvenile corps de ballet ‘on stage’ (and an informal teaching establishment ‘off’), most of which would be handed on to the new ballet-master when his predecessor moved on. If the juvenile dancer was formally apprenticed, or a private pupil, they would naturally move on with their original master. Private pupils and apprentices would expect to receive training to a professional standard with a percentage (probably a large one) of any salary they might make due to their master whilst under pupillage or indenture. James D’Egville, who brought a bevy of young pupils to any theatre where he was employed, secured by this means a considerable extra income. The other side of this arrangement enabled young dancers to gain stage experience, to say nothing of exposure (both professional, and personal); for any dancer who showed promise there were many opportunities to catch the eye of potential managements, potential husbands or even ‘protectors.’  

In 1788 Clarissa Blanchet danced regularly with the young D’Egvilles and Miss De Camp at Drury Lane, and the following season with James Byrne at Covent Garden. She returned to Drury Lane as a dancer and actress in the winter of 1791, though her role of “Queen of the Amazons” in David Garrick’s ‘dramatic romance’ Cymon may have been more of a mime role.  

Early in her career young Miss Blanchet was taken up by a soldier, one Captain Morris, with whom she lived for some years before her marriage to William Wybrow. For any moderately successful female performer the decision to live with a partner rather than marry them was more often a practical rather than a moral dilemma: the moment any woman married all of her property, including her person, became the absolute property of her husband. On the death of Mr. Wybrow, Clarissa lived with the (notorious) Earl of Craven. She married again on 22nd July 1810 to a Henry Foley of Manchester at St George’s Hanover Square; later (sometime before August 1812 ) she was married again – to an Attorney, called Dobson; and after his demise to a Mr White “whose name she died with.”3 The many gaps in her performance record may indicate a withdrawal from the stage due to marriage; if so, none were of long duration and she was even billed as dancing at the Sans Pareil Theatre on the night before her marriage at St George’s.  

Mrs Wybrow’s subsequent career was as one of the great Columbines of her generation — in the Theatres Royal; on the English Boards (the minor London theatres); and in the many Circuses where pantomimes and ballets were common fare during this period. She is often noticed in newspaper accounts which begin to be more regular and more detailed during her lifetime: 

… [at] the SANS PAREIL THEATRE, in the Stand; and what renders the attraction doubly powerful is the never-to-be-equalled gracefulness of Mrs. Wybrow’s Columbine (Morning Advertiser, Tuesday 28 August 1810).

Outside London Mrs Wybrow’s career is more difficult to follow, and it is possible that she was dancing on the Continent, or closer to home but under a different name. She was certainly dancing in Dublin in 1810 with some of the pupils of her old dancing partner James D’Egville: 

The comic Pantomime of Cattles [Castles?] in the Air succeeded; out is irresistibly laughable, and kept the audience almost in a continued roar. Mrs. Wybrow in Columbine Cowslip, transcends any thing conceived hitherto perhaps in this country of that species of performance. She is the first in her line that has appeared on [the] Dublin stage. Her vivacity, attitudes and agility, excited uncommon admiration and delight (Dublin Evening Post, Tuesday 23 January 1810).

And, later that same year, in Manchester, when she may well have met her second husband: 

Mrs. Wybrow’s Night. Bradbury’s Amphitheatre, Spring Gardens,. MANCHESTER. … In the course of the evening (by particular Desire and for that Night only), Mrs WYBROW will dance her admired Broad Sword Hornpipe, as originally danced by her at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (Manchester Mercury, Tuesday 29 May 1810).

Off stage she was also recorded as “having run a respectable lodging house in Villiers Street, Strand.”4 Shortly before her death, the former Mrs Wybrow was living on Finchley Common, travelling to her London home in Tavistock Row (by Covent Garden Market) for medical treatment where she died. Her remains were buried on the 6th of July 1826 only a few yards from her home in the yard of St Paul’s Covent Garden – ‘The Actors Church.’   

From an ‘Opera Centric’ point of view Clarissa Wybrow (née Blanchet) could be considered a minor player in 18th and 19th century dance – but her celebrity during her lifetime is clear and the legacy of her Columbine – particularly in partnering James Byrne’s pivotal Harlequin – set a standard for dancing in the wide range of venues in which contemporary audiences could always be sure to find dancing of the first quality. 


1) The Examiner, Sunday 30 July 1826.

2) Indenture payment recorded (Middlesex) on 3rd November 1785.

3) Obituary, Oxford University and City Herald, 29 July 1826.

4) Obituary, Oxford University and City Herald, 29 July 1826.


First print: Published by E. Orme. 30th March 1808; second print: Published by John Bell Southampton Street, Strand. March 1st 1813. 

Next post

Moira Goff’s post on Barbarina Campanini will appear on 24th December 2021.