The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography



Finette (real name Josephine Durwend) of the Bal Mabille was a can-can dancer, thirty years before the dance evolved into the meringue petticoats-and-bloomers form practised by La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge. The Bal Mabille was one of the more disreputable dance halls of the Second Empire, and Finette was also a available to gentlemen after-hours for entertainment unrelated to her skills as a dancer. In his student days in Paris she was briefly the mistress of James McNeill Whistler, who made two etchings of her in 1859.

She first demonstrated her version of the can-can to London audiences at the Lyceum Theatre on 26 December 1867, in a pantomime written by W.S. Gilbert. A week later, according to an advertisement in the Times, she was appearing at the same venue with Mlle. Esther Austin and Mlle. Henriette in 'Milano's Grand Parisian Carnival Galop' and in the spring of 1868 she was appearing nightly at the Alhambra Theatre, on the same bill as Jules Léotard, the trapeze artist.

'Finette smokes, Finette gets drunk, her language is vulgar, she beats her maid from morning to night', sniped her arch-rival Rigolboche. 'They say Finette writes charming letters. She doesn't even know how to write her own name and only reads magazines… she gets her piano teacher to do her writing for her'.

Presumably photographed in 1867 at the London branch of the great French photographer Disdéri. The backplate is entirely obscured by the printed paper label of the stockist where the carte was originally purchased.


Code: 123731
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