Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Four Seasons, Personified by Famous Actresses of La Belle Époque, Circa 1905

Here we have a series of four very special cards, representing the four seasons. Each of the seasons is personified by one of four famous Belle Époque stage performers. Each of these four cards is in particularly fine condition, though posted in 1909.

The Four Seasons, photographed by Reutlinger and posted in 1909

They must have been kept very carefully and lovingly, because, by their appearance, they are practically brand new! They were all sent by the same person, Ninette, to M. Emile Jourdan-Brive, who was clearly someone dear to her. Each includes a brief message, such as,"a thousand kisses from Ninette," written in a nice hand on the back of the card. Our researches suggest that Emile may have been a member of the Jourdan-Brive family of Marseille, who were well-known exporters of truffles, capers, wines, and perfumes to England during the Victorian era.

The images themselves, appear to be photogravures, made from photographs taken by the famous theatrical portraitist Leopold Reutlinger of Paris, probably circa 1905. Deeply impressed in fine, ivory-toned stock, these images are truly precious.

Although we are merchants, and generally sell our wares on a piece by piece basis, we simply cannot bring ourselves to break up so lovingly cared for, and romantic, a set of cards as this one. Consequently, we are selling these four cards as a set.

Note: There will be another post reflecting this listing due to our use of an automatic posting system, which ensures that every time we post an item in our shop a post appears in the blog. We are offering this post to provide you with complete information about the set, including high-res scans of the front and back of each card, since we are limited to only 5 images in our listing on Etsy.

Le Printemps, Spring


Le Printemps (Spring), is represented by the breathtaking Arlette Dorgere. Surrounded by early blossoms, her hair in a woodland sprite's disarray, she tenderly cradles a nest of tiny bird's eggs.

Le Printemps, by Reutlinger

Mlle. Dorgere was a very popular artiste who performed at the Scala, and in many other venues in Paris and elsewhere. We have not been able to find any information about her early life, but we know that her image was captured by the famous poster artist Jules Cheret, and that at about the time the photograph for this card was taken (circa 1904), she was already so successful that she was able to purchase a lovely chateau, the Chateau Vigneus sur Seine, in a quiet neighborhood south of Paris. It was on a large wooded lot, with a pond, and when the pressures of her work grew heavy, she would ride in her chauffeur-driven limousine to this retreat. In 1929, she sold the chateau, which she had renamed Chateau Dorgere, and retired quietly to Morocco, which was then a colonial protectorate of France.

Reverse of Le Printemps
Translation: A thousand beautiful kisses from Ninette

L’ Eté, Summer


L’ Eté (Summer), is represented by Mlle. Marcelle Yrven. In this image, she clutches flowers to her breast, while smiling joyfully, a goddess of the season.

L' Eté, by Reutlinger

Mlle. Yrven (1877-1949) was a fascinating woman who was not only a wonderful stage performer, but also an author, a poet, and outspoken on the subject of women in society. She wrote a short book on feminism, "La Comedienne Et Le Feminisme," as it related to women in the theater, which was not only interesting politically, but historically, as it pertained to La Belle Époque theater, really fascinating. We don't think it is available in English online, but it is short enough that if you have a little French, and the online translator, you can work through it.

Reverse of L' Eté

Translation: Best kisses from Ninette

L' Automne, Autumn


L' Automne (Autumn), is the season during which the wine grapes are harvested, as depicted by the maenad Mlle. Renee Despres, wearing vines and fruit of the vine.

L' Automne, by Reutlinger

This is a wonderful image in which she smiles at us invitingly, offering us the celebration of the season. Unfortunately, we have no biographical information on her, apart from the fact that she did appear on the playbills of a number of theaters in Paris, and that, from other images we've seen, she was a most elegant lady of the Belle Époque theater.

Reverse of L' Automne

Translation: Embraces (or, perhaps, kisses) Fernand for me Ninette [We find this just a bit confusing, since these cards all were addressed to M. Emile Jourdan-Brive, but perhaps Fernand was his middle or nickname.]

L' Hiver, Winter


L' Hiver (Winter), is here pictured not so differently than it might be in England, or elsewhere in Europe or the United States. We have the yule logs, Holly, the evergreen tree, and is that a bit of mistletoe Miss Campton wears in her hair beneath her hood?

L' Hiver, by Reutlinger

Miss Campton, like many performers in the Paris of that time, was English; she was born Emily Straham Cager in Brighton, in April of 1882. Here, photographed by Reutlinger, she was also often found in stunning images produced by Professor Stebbing, another well-known and prolific Belle Époque photographer. She was apparently a very special friend of Paul Derval, who for many years directed the Folies Bergere, and though they did not, as far as we know, marry, when she died at a relatively young age of cancer, in Paris, she was interred in the Derval family tomb.

Reverse of L' Hiver

Translation: Another kiss from Ninette



As a complete set, these cards evoke the magical and celebratory relationship between people and nature that often seems the very essence of so much art during this period.

The listing for this set will be available within the next 24 hours.