La Guimard – Madonna or Material Girl? A sad tale of Terpsichore

On June 28th 1790 the court in Westminster Hall London heard the case of Marie-Madeline Guimard versus Giovanni Gallini for breach of contract and the non- payment of fees. Guimard herself was not present, but, under attack from one of the foremost barristers of the day, her lawyer Mr Bower lost the case and so the dancer half of her considerable fee. After a thirty-year career as a star at the Paris Opera this turned out to be Guimard’s final season, so how did it end this way?

Marie-Madeline Guimard made her debut at the Paris opera in 1763 at the age of nineteen. There followed an illustrious career as a renowned dancer, fashion icon, and friend of royalty. By the time she arrived in London in 1789 she was considered by some to be past her prime. Her reception from her friends and female admirers was warm, but what about the dance-loving public and how was she portrayed in the newspapers?

This paper will examine the tale of a French ‘star’ in London. Her reception by the British press, her clash with the Italians running the King’s Theatre, her friends in high places and her relationship with the London audience… and how she came to be in a law court.

Joanna Jarvis
Author affiliation
Birmingham City University