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).

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

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).