The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Jules Léotard

Jules Léotard

The inventor of the trapeze act, Jules Léotard was born in Toulouse, the son of a gymnast father. Jules always claimed that as a baby his parents would hang him upside-down to stop him crying. Later the young Jules would practice his act over the pool of his father’s gymnasium. He first performed publicly on 12 November 1859 at the Cirque Napoléon in Paris, where his act caused a sensation. His first London performance was at the Alhambra in May 1861, and he returned to London again in 1866 and 1868, appearing at music halls and pleasure gardens. At the Ashburnham Hall in Cremorne he performed on five trapezes simultaneously, turning somersaults between each one.

He is still remembered today in the garment he gave his name to, originally an all-in-one knitted suit that allowed complete freedom of movement with nothing that could get entangled with the ropes. The tight fabric also showed off his physique to great advantage, and the spectacle of this, it was said, occasionally caused young ladies in the audience to faint.

Jules Léotard died from an infectious disease (probably smallpox) in 1870, at the age of thirty-three.

Photographed by Disdéri of Paris.


Code: 122282
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