Liane de Pougy and the charm of ambiguity in the Belle Époque

Liane de Pougy and the charm of ambiguity in the Belle Époque


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  • Liane de Pougy.

  • Liane de Pougy.

  • Liane de Pougy.

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Title: Liane de Pougy.

Author :

Date shown: 06 June 1899

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Negative gelatin silver bromide glass.

Storage location: Architecture and heritage multimedia library website

Contact copyright: © Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Atelier de Nadarsite web

Picture reference: 10-502537 / NA 238 15761 R

© Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Nadar Workshop

To close

Title: Liane de Pougy.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 13.5 - Width 9.5

Technique and other indications: Albumen print.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 10-502537 / NA 238 15761 R

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Liane de Pougy.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Negative gelatin silver bromide glass.

Storage location: Architecture and heritage multimedia library website

Contact copyright: © Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Atelier de Nadarsite web

Picture reference: 10-502535 / NA 238 13017 A P

© Ministry of Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Nadar Workshop

Publication date: April 2011

Agrégée in Italian, Doctorate in Contemporary History at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Historical context

The metamorphosis of a mother in a "large horizontal"

Since the Second Empire, the photographic portrait has experienced a real boom, linked to the desire for individual affirmation of the middle classes who, failing the too expensive services of painters, go to photographic workshops. But photography is also an excellent form of publicity for courtesans seeking international fame; in addition, it is the main instrument of worship for the female figure who, during the Belle Époque, turned into an obsession, without calling into question the patriarchal and misogynistic mentality of society. Since the French Revolution and the Declaration of the rights of women and citizens proposed by Olympe de Gouges in 1791, feminist movements demanded equality between the sexes, but, at the end of the 19th century, the emancipation of women still came through alcoves. Enjoying a freedom unthinkable for other women, Hetairians can even display their possible Sapphic tendencies without fear of discouraging their suitors who, on the contrary, are drawn to the challenge of a seemingly impossible conquest, forgetting - or pretending to be. forget - that their relationship with the “big horizontals” is based on money. Belle Époque society tolerated such characters as the writer Jean Lorrain or the courtesans Liane de Pougy and Émilienne d´Alençon, provided their "eccentricity" did not set a bad example for young people from good families. However, high-flying courtesans have not always lived a dramatic childhood like that of Belle Otero, or at least miserable, like that of Emilienne d'Alençon: the story of Liane de Pougy proves that a young mother family can become a great casserole despite a good education and a bourgeois marriage, if the seeds of revolt and ambition smolder in his mind.

Born Anne-Marie Chassaigne in La Flèche on July 2, 1869, into a modest but respectable family of soldiers, an agnostic father and a very devout mother, Liane experienced the first chills of Sapphic love during her childhood. Very beautiful and very tall for the time (she measures 1.68 meters), Anne-Marie married, at the age of sixteen, the young soldier Armand Pourpe, with whom she had only one child, Marc, born in 1887. A painful childbirth and the birth of a boy, when she wanted a girl, mark the young woman, who feels no maternal instinct; stifled by the violent fits of jealousy of her husband, she ended up cheating on him, then abandoning him, in 1889. Finally free, Anne-Marie left for Paris, the city of all the pleasures and all the possibilities, that she had discovered during her honeymoon: after a period of apprenticeship in a brothel and thanks to the advice of the famous Valtesse de la Bigne, who inspired Zola to play the character of Nana, the modest Anne-Marie turns into Liane de Pougy and quickly climbed the ladder of gallantry. Proust was inspired by her to create Odette de Crécy, Swann's amorous obsession.

Like her sisters, Liane began a theatrical career to increase her notoriety and her earnings: in 1894, she began at the Folies-Bergère as a magician and acrobat, then performed as a mime at the Olympia. Her rivalry with the Belle Otero, her friendship with her "soul mate" Jean Lorrain and her connections with Émilienne d´Alençon and Natalie Clifford Barney, are the joy of social chroniclers: Liane is in particular the heroine of Gil Blas, which does not fail to announce the publication of his autobiographical novels.

Image Analysis

The clever construction of a female idol

These three photos, taken by the Nadar workshop, show Liane de Pougy's passion for pearls. Sensitive to the sparkle of gold and precious stones, the famous hétaïre is, even more than a diamond crusher, a “pearl cruncher”: the femininity and the lunar glow of the mother-of-pearl spheres irresistibly attract Liane who, at his beginnings in the art of gallantry, endured the blows of the whip struck by Lord Carnavon, the famous English Egyptologist, to obtain as a reward a pearl of inestimable value.

In the first two photos, Liane is barely in her thirties and already a celebrity in Parisian social life. The casserole is displayed in the first shot as an elegant lady, ready to go for a walk, perhaps in the Bois de Boulogne; her light dress, demure demeanor and serious look prove that, far from forgetting the attire and good manners learned in her youth, she now uses them to attract her wealthy suitors. The standing position highlights Liane's slender figure and the proud attitude of a woman who has succeeded in freeing herself from marital power and for herself a position - not honorable, of course, but also very profitable - in the community. Parisian socialite.

In the second photo, Liane appears on the page of the Renaissance, according to the cross-dressing fashion that charms male viewers with the double attraction of disguise: its sexual ambiguity and the pretty shapes it reveals (see Giuditta Pasta and cross-dressing at the opera). If she plays with her androgynous physique in this way, Liane de Pougy cannot resist the temptation to wear a round of pearls even on her male costume.

The third photo shows a ripe Liana, but still beautiful and full of charm. The model appears here as enveloped in an impalpable cloud of white veils, from which stands out her hair, still natural brown, and ten turns of large pearls. The luxury of the adornment contrasts with the attitude of the beautiful courtesan: her contemplative air, eyes raised to the sky, seems to announce the conversion which will transform the beautiful sinner into penitent Magdalene.

Interpretation

A “show woman” close to holiness

Liane de Pougy dreams of a theatrical career, although Sarah Bernhardt (see Sarah Bernhardt by Nadar and The birth of stardom) advised her to be satisfied with showing herself without speaking and that the ruthless but sincere critics have decreed that she plays "better lying down than standing": she then turns to pantomime where, for lack of expressiveness, her beauty guarantees success. Like Nana, Liane de Pougy triumphs in the theater without any talent, by the sheer force of seduction: rather than a woman of the show, we can thus see in her a "woman show" who offers herself to the public, anticipating the “woman object” of the 20th century.

In 1910, Liane married the Romanian prince Georges Ghika, fifteen years his junior, and gave up the life of demi-mondaine, without however renouncing Sapphic loves. The death of her son Marc, an aviation pioneer who fell on the field in 1914, awakens in her maternal love and also a strong sense of guilt. This mourning and, in 1926, a deep marital crisis prompted Liane to radically question her life; in 1928, his meeting with the Mother Superior of the Sainte-Agnès asylum in Saint-Martin-le-Vinoux, near Grenoble, marked the beginning of his conversion. Widowed in 1945, Liane de Pougy entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic, near Lausanne, under the name Anne-Marie-Madeleine de la Pénitence; when she died on December 26, 1950, at the age of eighty-one, her confessor called her "close to holiness."

  • women
  • theater
  • stardom
  • Belle Epoque
  • bourgeoisie
  • courtesan
  • casserole
  • Shepherdess Follies
  • conversion
  • femininity
  • Proust (Marcel)
  • portrait
  • Bernhardt (Sarah)
  • worldly life
  • photography
  • actor

Bibliography

Jean CHALON, Liane de Pougy, courtesan, princess and saint, Paris, Flammarion, 1994.Claude DUFRESNE, Three graces from the Belle Époque, Paris, Bartillot, 2003.Sylvie JOUANNY, The Actress and Her Doubles: Figures and Representation of the Performer at the End of the 19th Century, Geneva, Droz, 2002.Liane de POUGY, My blue notebooks, Paris, Plon, 1977.

To cite this article

Gabriella ASARO, "Liane de Pougy and the charm of ambiguity in the Belle Époque"


Video: PARIS 1900. 1930 La Belle époque, France, expo 1900 Marc Lavoine


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