Paul Frecker
Fine Photographs

Jules Léotard

A carte-de-visite portrait of the trapeze artist Jules Léotard (1838-1870).

The inventor of the trapeze act, 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. The spectacle was so thrilling that occasionally young ladies in the audience would faint.

While Jules Léotard was performing in London during the summer of 1862, on 28 July he was married in the Roman Catholic church of St John the Evangelist on Duncan Terrace in Islington. The bride was Domenica Serafina Bernini, the twenty-five-year old daughter of Pietro Bernini, of ‘Independent’ means. The marriage was not a successful one, since it was reported by The Bayswater Chronicle (10 December 1864), quoting an earlier report in The Era, that ‘The wife of Leotard, an Italian [sic] performer, 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. The parties were married in London in July, 1862.’

Léotard 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, as one can see in this portrait.

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

An embossed blindstamp recto in the lower margin identifies the photographer as 'L.P.'

Condition: the print presents some small imperfections, mostly noticeably a small nick at the centre of its lower edge and some abrasions near the centre of the upper edge. The mount presents some faint marks and yellowing verso but is otherwise in reasonably good condition, with crisp edges and sharp corners.

Dimensions: the dimensions of a standard carte-de-visite are approximately 4.1" by 2.5" (10.5 cm by 6.3 cm).

price:  £95
code: cat015
trapeze, trapeze artist, Jules Leotard, Jules Léotard, circus