Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cléo de Mérode Giveaway to Celebrate Our 1,000th Sale!

Red Poulaine has been in business for so short a time, that it really took us by surprise when we realized that we will soon be selling our 1,000th item! We thank all of you very much for being our wonderful customers, and to celebrate this event, we plan to include a very special card, one that we hope any of our customers would be very happy to add to their collections, in the order that includes our 1,000th sale as a special thank you.

So, with the clock ticking and the calendar pages flying, we conducted a search far and wide for just the right card, one with a very beautiful image and an enticing history, to grace the collection of one very special customer. And we found it!

NOT FOR SALE Exquisite Cleo De Merode Giveaway Card, circa 1900
This beautiful image of Cléo de Mérode will belong to the customer who makes the 1,000th purchase from our shop. 

Cléo de Mérode (September 27th , 1875-October 17th, 1966) is possibly the most well-known dancer of La Belle Époque. Certainly she was the postcard queen of the era, and took great care with the images of her, making careful use of the medium to help promote her public recognition. Her postcard images are some of the most sought after and often the most expensive of all the "artistes."

The daughter of the Austrian-born nobleman and landscape painter Karl von Mérode, and given the exotic name Cléopâtre Diane de Mérode at birth (although her mother called her Lulu), she started taking dance lessons when only 7- or 8-years-old and made her stage debut at the tender age of 11. As Cléo de Mérode, she went on to become an international star, known for her tiny waist, grace, and exquisite beauty. As one of the most glamorous of the stars of that time, she was sought after by many artists and photographers. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Puyo, Alfredo Muller, Giovanni Boldini, and Gustav Klimt painted her, Alexandre Falguière sculpted her, and photographers such as Léopold Émile Reutlinger, who took the image above, Félix Nadar, Henri Manuel, Charles Ogerau, and others vied to immortalize her image. There was even a wax effigy made of her in 1895 by sculptor Leopold Bernstamm, which was displayed in the Grevin Museum

Early in her career, in 1896, when Cléo was just 22, King Léopold II of Belgium became entranced by her performance in a ballet. Léopold, then 61 years of age, already had two children by a woman rumored to be a prostitute and his pursuit of Cléo was enough to damage her reputation. Cléo, and her mother, who traveled with her, rejected the allegations. In an October 5th, 1897 interview with the New York Times, her mother, Mme. Mérode, insisted that although Cléo had been required to meet with the king, she did so only with her mother's chaperonage. Cléo herself said, "It Is horrible - horrible - that they should so pursue me with such monstrous lies! The King of the Belgians is no more to me than any other great man who has admired me on the stage, whom I have seen for a few moments off the stage very rarely, and always in the presence of many other persons."

Cléo may have been chaste, but she knew the worth of her beauty and charm as she rose to international stardom. A month prior to the Times interview, she was interviewed for a September 24th piece in the Delphos, Ohio Daily Herald. The interviewer enthused about her charms before sharing her comments:
For some months New York has been anticipating the arrival of Cleo de Merode, the Parisian dancer, the fame of whose wonderful beauty is now worldwide. And not only New York, but the whole country has felt more than common interest in the arrival on these shores of this odd young woman who has done nothing but dance and yet has turned the heads of monarchs, and at whose feet have been showered jewels and gifts that in the aggregate are worth an immense fortune.
 Now that she has come to America, the interest in her attractive personality amounts to a continuous furore. Indeed Cleo de Merode is charming. Lithe and elegant, in an ecru gown embroidered in openwork over white silk, beautiful enough to dispense with wit, she replied to a thousand questions asked her by her many admirers as naturally as if she were witty enough to dispense with beauty. Her hazel eyes reflected a world. Her delicate features, animated by the excitement of her arrival, harmonized admirably with her rich, silky hair, dark with tints of red, and dressed in two wavy bands over her ears. Her black eyebrows commanded. Her smile was sweet, and what a spectacle it was when she lowered her eyelids and let one admire in their length her immeasurable brown lashes!
"I dance the ancient dances," she said, "the Louis XIII, the Louis XV, the gavot, the pavan, the minuet, and I led at Royan Louis Ganne's ballet of 'Phryne.' I am gowned by a real dressmaker. I know music very well, and play the piano as little as possible. I know how to arrange a basket of fruit, place flowers in a jardiniere and touch a book without spoiling it. I have read the poets and the historians, and I do not write. I wear stockings that are as fine as a woven mist. What other accomplishments shall I speak of?"

Although she pretended to make little of her famed beauty, saying she had, "a style of face conventional enough to have pleased a great number of people," Cléo de Mérode made effective use of it, comparing herself to the subject of da Vinci's Mona Lisa (Jaconda). Clearly, as a consummate performer, she knew that her audience required a level of audacity that few women of the time expressed.

Figures 14, 15 of La Belle - Jaconda, by Leonardo da Vinci for Hohenstatt  Analysis
Do you see the resemblance? It is most pronounced in figure 14, but we think Cléo's beauty was even greater than that of da Vinci's model.

Although Cléo was an elite ballerina dancing in a time when there was a firm separation between those who danced on the ballet stage and those who danced in the less respectable Parisian dance halls, in 1901, while at the peak of her career, Cléo, in a brilliant career move, performed at the Folies Bergère. This was a bold move for a ballerina with a serious career, yet her performance was such that she gained an even greater following. It was through such brilliant publicity moves, along with her ability as a dancer, that Cléo was able to maintain her position as one of Paris' most successful dancers, stretching her career into her 50s before finally retiring from the stage.

Despite her statement in 1897 that she did not write, Cléo would, in 1955, publish her autobiography, Le Ballet de ma vie (The Dance of My Life). When she died in 1966 at the age of 96, Cléo de Mérode was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris alongside her mother. A statue of her, depicting her in mourning for her mother, now decorates the headstone the two woman share.

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