La Goulue (The Glutton), born Louise Weber, was an ambitious country laundress who became famous dancing the cancan. Nicknamed for her insatiable appetite for both life and food, she aggressively courted fame, dancing in transparent muslin knickers, posing topless in publicity photos, and cultivating a reputation for bawdiness. Her costume consisted of a low-cut gown, a much-copied hairstyle, and a black ribbon choker. Her look was so distinctive that in Lautrec’s most famous images of her, he did not even need to show her from the front. These images reveal his debt to Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts, in which subjects are often identified by gestures, hairstyles, or accessories rather than a traditional likeness.
Louise Weber, nicknamed La Goulue (the glutton), is depicted in the Moulin Rouge—a Montmartre cabaret frequented by the Parisian demimonde—flanked by her sister to her right and, to her left, her lover. Toulouse-Lautrec made many paintings of Weber, a star performer known for her appetite. Throughout his work he portrayed unconventional individuals in an audacious manner both frank and sympathetic. The shallow space, bold cropping, and heavy, form-flattening outlines reflect the pictorial devices of Japanese woodblock prints and the work of Edgar Degas, which Toulouse–Lautrec greatly admired. The artist considered this work to be the best of his dance-hall paintings and exhibited it four times the year it was completed.