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 in public on 12 November 1859 at the Cirque Napoléon in Paris, where his act caused a sensation. The applause was no less rapturous in Vienna, St Petersburg and Berlin. His first British performance was at the Alhambra on Leicester Square in May 1861, and he regularly returned to London, appearing at music halls and pleasure gardens. At the Ashburnham Hall in Cremorne Gardens he performed on five trapezes simultaneously, turning somersaults between each one.

While he was performing in London during the summer of 1862, he married an Italian girl by the name of Domenica Serafina Bernini on 28 July in the Roman Catholic church of St John the Evangelist on Duncan Terrace in Islington. The marriage was not a successful one, and in December 1864 it was reported in several newspapers that ‘The wife of Leotard… who now calls herself “Madame Silvia Bernini,” has brought an action against her husband suing for a separation and it is said that the marriage may be annulled.’

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

Photographed by Pesme of Paris.

Code: 122044
© Paul Frecker 2023