Insights on the pirouette with Mademoiselle Parisot
Mademoiselle Parisot, the French-born dancer and singer, enthralled conservative English audiences when she debuted on the London stage in 1796 aged about 18 years. She captivated audiences with an almost magical power to balance herself horizontally while pivoting on one toe. Her bold grace also caught the attention of the press and caricaturists. The Monthly Mirror reported that she created ‘a stir by raising her legs far higher than was customary for dancers’ while artists such as Cruikshank lampooned her audience, rapt from gazing beneath her skirts.
The delicate drawing of Parisot in the Baillieu Library is a far less risqué portrait of the dancer renowned for her scandalous, gauzy costumes. The image is not signed, but a 1797 mezzotint after Arthur William Devis suggests that this is the original work of art reproduced. The artist has shied away from capturing the famous height of her leg in the pirouette and instead it trails awkwardly behind her (Devis’ career as an artist struggled in the 1790s). Dancers had just dispensed with heeled shoes and Parisot is depicted with the new flat shoes which were secured with ribbons and allowed the performer to leap, turn and fully extend their feet.