Stunning Female Portraits by Pioneering Photographer Félix Nadar

Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820 – 1910), a French photographer, caricaturist, journalist, novelist, and balloonist.

Nadar was born in April 1820 in Paris (though some sources state Lyon). He took his first photographs in 1853 and in 1858 became the first person to take aerial photographs. He also pioneered the use of artificial lighting in photography, working in the catacombs of Paris and later became the number one portrait photographer for the French elite.  In April 1874, he lent his photo studio to a group of painters, thus making the first exhibition of the Impressionists possible. Nadar died in 1910, aged 89. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Today, examples of Nadar’s photographic portraits are held by many of the great national collections of photographs.

Petite fille, ca 1887 Felix Nadar

Selika Lazevski was an écuyère who performed haute école – which means she was an equestrian who rode high school dressage in French circuses in the 19th century, by Félix Nadar, 1891 via

Polaire by Félix Nadar via

French photographer Felix Nadar was the first to take aerial photographs and later became the number one portrait photographer for the French elite. [Sarah Bernard]

Sarah Bernardt  by Félix Nadar via

Cléo de Merode by Felix Nadar, c.1900

Cléo de Mérode by Félix Nadar, c.1900 via

George Sand by Félix Nadar, 1864 via

Berthe Morisot by Felix Nadar, 1875 via

Photos of Opera’s Greatest Beauty: Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944)

Lina Cavalieri was born on Christmas Day at Viterbo, some eighty kilometers (50 miles) north of Rome. She lost her parents at the age of fifteen and became a ward of the state, sent to live in a Roman Catholic orphanage. The vivacious young girl was unhappy under the strict discipline of the nuns, and at the first opportunity she ran away with a touring theatrical group.

At a young age, she made her way to Paris, France, where her appearance opened doors and she obtained work as a singer at one of the city’s café-concerts. From there she performed at a variety of music halls and other such venues around Europe, while still working to develop her voice. Lina took voice lessons and made her opera debut in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1900 (as Nedda in Pagliacci), the same year she married her first husband, the Russian Prince Alexandre Bariatinsky.

After retiring from the stage, Cavalieri ran a cosmetic salon in Paris. In 1914, on the eve of her fortieth birthday — her beauty still spectacular — she wrote an advice column on make-up for women in Femina magazine and published a book, My Secrets of Beauty. In 1915, she returned to her native Italy to make motion pictures. When that country became involved in World War I, she went to the United States where she made four more silent films. The last three of her films were the product of her friend, the Belgian film director Edward José.

After marrying her fourth husband Paolo d’Arvanni, she returned to live with her husband in Italy. Well into her sixties when World War II began, she nevertheless worked as a volunteer nurse. Cavalieri was killed on February 7, 1944 during an Allied bombing raid that destroyed her home in the countryside of Fiesole, a small town near Florence.

In 1955, Gina Lollobrigida portrayed Cavalieri in the film Beautiful But Dangerous (also known as The World’s Most Beautiful Woman).

Piero Fornasetti was an Italian painter and sculptor who used the face of  Cavalieri as a motif on many items including sculpture, plates and vases.  Today her iconic image has become one of the best known ‘faces’ to feature in interiors.

Lina Cavalieri via

Lina Cavalieri via

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Lina Cavalieri by Aime Dupont via

Lina Cavalieri via

A Collection of Photos featuring Sarah Bernhardt – “The Divine Sarah”

Parisian actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) has been reffered to as “the most famous actress the world has ever known”. Her 1874 debut in the tragedy Iphigénie cemented her importance as a stage actress and launched what would become a career lasting six decades. But the “The Divine Sarah” was not only known as the greatest French actress, she was also painted a true eccentric, something which  contributed to her fame as much as her acting talent did. And it is true that her off-stage life was often just as harrowing as that of the characters she portrayed, with frequent bouts of physical ailments, financial difficulties, and numerous love affairs.

Her debut in Racine’s tragedy Iphigénie cemented her importance as a stage actress and launched what would become a 60-year career and a pan-European reputation as “the Divine Sarah.” – See more at: http://www.nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/sarah-bernhardt#sthash.yVR9bgii.dpuf
Sarah Bernhardt established her name in France as one of the most famous actresses of the 19th-century stage. Less well known is her skill as a sculptor – See more at: http://www.nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/sarah-bernhardt#sthash.yVR9bgii.dpuf
Her debut in Racine’s tragedy Iphigénie cemented her importance as a stage actress and launched what would become a 60-year career and a pan-European reputation as “the Divine Sarah.” – See more at: http://www.nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/sarah-bernhardt#sthash.cqtpFW4m.dpuf
Her debut in Racine’s tragedy Iphigénie cemented her importance as a stage actress and launched what would become a 60-year career and a pan-European reputation as “the Divine Sarah.” – See more at: http://www.nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/sarah-bernhardt#sthash.cqtpFW4m.dpuf

Although, much has been written about her life and work,  there is still much uncertainty because of her tendency to exaggerate and distort.

She was born Henriette-Rosine Bernard and was the illegitimate daughter of Julie Bernard, a Dutch courtesan who had established herself in Paris (the identity of her father is uncertain). Her mother had little time or inclination to raise a young child in the social whirl of the Paris salon set. After a tumultuous childhood, Bernhardt was ready to commit herself to a religious life when a place was secured for her to study acting in the Paris Conservatoire (1859 to 1862).

Bernhardt’s stage career started in 1862 while she was a student. One of her mother’s lovers, a half brother of Napoleon III, arranged for Bernhardt to gain entry into the French national theater company.

However, she was expelled and resumed the life of courtesan to which her mother had introduced her at a young age, and made considerable money during that period (1862-65). During this time she acquired her famous coffin, in which she often slept in lieu of a bed – claiming that doing so helped her understand her many tragic roles. A widely circulated photo showed a peaceful Bernhardt lying in the coffin, with her eyes closed and draped with flowers. This no doubt  fuelled the publics´ curiosity.

In Belgium she became the mistress of Henri, Prince de Ligne, and gave birth to their son, Maurice, in 1864. After Maurice’s birth, the Prince proposed marriage, but his family forbade it and persuaded Bernhardt to refuse and end their relationship.

Later in life she married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala’s death in 1889 at age of 34, quickly collapsed, largely due to Damala’s dependence on morphine. During the later years of this marriage, Bernhardt was said to have been involved in an affair with the future King King Edward VII while he was still the Prince of Wales.

Her lifestyle was always flamboyant. Bernhardt not only sometimes slept in a coffin, but even liked to accessorise with a dead, stuffed bat. Whether she was at home or traveling Bernhardt always kept a large coterie of friends and admirers about her, as well as servants and a menagerie of exotic animals including a cheetah, a wolf, and a boa-constrictor. An alligator named Ali-Gaga died sadly after being fed too much milk and champagne.

At her death in 1923 almost a half-million people lined the streets of Paris to bid their good-bye. Newspaper reports stated she died “peacefully, without suffering, in the arms of her son.” She is believed to have been 78 years old. Through her lifetime Bernhardt had played some seventy roles in one hundred and twenty five productions in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and the Middle East. She had also managed several theaters in Paris.

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Sarah Bernhardt 1860 via

Sarah Bernhardt a legend

Sarah Bernhardt via

Sarah Bernhardt 1870s via

Postcard from the turn of the century via

Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt via

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Sarah Bernhardt via

Sarah Bernhard “La nuit de mai”, 1909 via

At the Théâtre de la Renaissance: Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre

At the Théâtre de la Renaissance: Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1883 via

Sarah Bernhardt – Excerpts from ‘La Samaritaine’ (1903)

Bernhardt developed her own emotional romantic acting style

based on her lyrical voice (known as the “golden voice”),

calculated nervous action and the subversion of her viewers’ expectations

concerning her characters, disclosing strength in weakness and weakness in strength

Stunning Photos of Belle Epoque Beauty Cléo de Mérode

Dancer Cleo de Merode  (1875 – 1966) became famous at a young age. Born in Bordeaux, France, she came from an aristocratic family. Her father was a member of the Belgian nobility and a landscape painter.

In 1896, King Léopold II attended the ballet and saw Mérode dance. The 61-year-old Belgian King became enamoured with the 22-year-old ballet star, and gossip started that she was his latest mistress. Because the King had had two children with a woman reputed to be a prostitute, Cléo de Mérode’s reputation suffered, and she had to live with it for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, Cléo de Mérode became an international star, performing across Europe and in the United States. 

Mérode became renowned for her glamour even more than for her dancing skills, and her image began appearing on postcards and playing cards. A particular new hairstyle she chose at age 16 became the talk of Parisian women and was quickly adopted as a popular style – parted in the middle, pulled back over the ears and wound into a chignon at the back, often worn with metal band.

At the peak of her popularity, she chose to dance at the Folies Bergère, taking the risk to do something other elites of the ballet had never done before. Her performance gained her a whole new following. Her fame was such that Alexandre Falguière sculpted The Dancer in her image, which today can be seen in the Musée d’Orsay. In 1895, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did her portrait, as would Charles Puyo, Alfredo Muller, and Giovanni Boldini.

Mérode continued to dance until her early fifties, when she retired to the seaside resort of Biarritz in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département of France. In 1955, she published her autobiography, Le Ballet de ma vie (The Dance of My Life).

She died in 1966 and was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris in Division 90. A statue of her, mourning her mother, who is interred in the same plot, decorates the gravestone.

Carte postale, (envoyée en 1901), illustrée d’une photographie de Cléo de Mérode en costume de scène via

Studio NPG, Portrait of Cleo de Merode, 1903 via

Cléo de Mérode by Leopold Reutlinger, 1900 via

Cléo de Mérode by Reutlinger via

Cléo de Mérode via

Cléo de Merode by Charles Ogerau, 1893 via

Cléo de Mérode

Cléo de Mérode via

Cléo de Mérode, 1910 via

Wonderful Belle Epoque Photos of Liane de Pougy (1869 – 1950)

Liane de Pougy (1869 – 1950), was a Folies Bergère dancer renowned as one of Paris’s most beautiful and notorious courtesans.

She was born in La Flèche and raised in a nunnery. At the age of 16, she ran off with a naval officer, marrying because she was pregnant. He turned out to be a brute and the marriage ended. Hence,  she began dabbling in acting and prostitution and it is now known that she was a heavy user of both cocaine and opium.

She began her career as a courtesan with the Countess Valtesse de la Bigne.

After moving to Paris, from her position at the Folies she became a noted demimondaine, and a rival of “La Belle Otero”. She took her last name from one of her paramours, a Comte or Vicomte de Pougy.

Upon her marriage to Prince Georges Ghika on June 8, 1910 she became Princess Ghika; this marriage ended in separation, though not divorce. Her son’s death as an aviator in World War I turned her towards religion and she became a tertiary of the Order of Saint Dominic as Sister Anne-Mary. She became involved in the Asylum of Saint Agnes, devoted to the care of children with birth defects. She died at Lausanne, Switzerland

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Liane de Pougy, 1900s via

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Paul Nadar, Liane de Pougy, 19th century via

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Liane de Pougy, 19th century via

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Nadar, Liane de Pougy, 1900s via

Amazing Vintage Photos of La Belle Otéro

Carolina “La Belle” Otéro (4 November 1868 – 12 April 1965) was a Galician born dancer, actress, courtesan and possibly the worlds first film star.

Her given name was Agustina Otero Iglesias. After a troubled childhood she left home at age twelve and found small jobs in cafés, bordellos, and music halls. She married twice before finding a sponsor in Barcelona who moved with her to Marseilles in order to promote her dancing career in France. She soon left him and created the character of La Belle Otero, fancying herself an Andalusian gypsy.

At the age of twenty-one she joined the Follies Bergere in Paris. Otéro was pretty, confident, intelligent and with an attractive figure. After becoming the star of Follies Bergere she was a sought after courtesan to the wealthy and powerful men of the day. She associated herself with the likes of Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Kings of Serbia, and Kings of Spain as well as Russian Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas, the Duke of Westminster and the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. Her love affairs made her infamous, and the envy of many other notable female personalities of the day.

It was once said of her that her extraordinarily dark black eyes were so captivating that they were “of such intensity that it was impossible not to be detained before them”.

Six men reportedly committed suicide after their love affairs with Otero ended, although this has never been substantiated. It is a fact, however, that two men did fight a duel over her.

In August 1898, in St-Petersburg, the French film operator Félix Mesguich (an employee of the Lumière company) shot a one-minute reel of Otero performing the famous “Valse Brillante”, making her possibly the first film star in history.

Otéro retired after World War I. She had accumulated a massive fortune over the years, about US$25 million. Otéro died at the age of 97, by that time she had squandered all of her fortune away through her lavish lifestyle. In her final years she lived in a more and more pronounced state of poverty until she died of a heart attack in 1965 in her one-room apartment at the Hotel Novelty in Nice.

La Belle Otero via

La Belle Otero in an orientalizing costume for the Folies Bergere ... 

La Belle Otero in an orientalizing costume for the Folies Bergere, 1901

La Belle Otero via

La Belle Otero with Maria who portrayed her in the film “La Belle Otero”.

A Collection of Photos featuring the Incredibly Tightlaced Entertainer Polaire

Polaire (“Pole Star”), (real name Pauline Emilie-Marie Bouchard ) was Born in Algeria in 1874. She was a French music hall singer, dancer and actress. Her most successful period professionally was from the mid-1890s to the beginning of the First World War.

In France she had quickly made a name for herself and Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed her on a magazine cover in 1895. She then briefly tried her luck in New York, but without achieving major success. On her return to Paris she extended her range and went on to act in serious theatre. In 1909 she started to appear in silent films. In 1910 she returned to the musical stage and began a second tour of the United States, after which she appeared at the London Coliseum.

She struggled to find stage or screen roles as she aged. She returned to films in 1922, but in the declining years of her career had to be content with lesser parts. Her last was in 1935. She passed away in 1939, at age sixty-five, in Champigny-sur-Marne, Val-de-Marne, France. Her body was buried at the Cimetière du Centre, in the eastern Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne.

Throughout her career Polaire was skilled in using her appearance to attract attention. In her early days as a café singer in the 1890s she wore very short skirts and also cropped her hair, fashions that did not become common in the rest of society until the 1920s. A brunette, she wore unusually heavy eye makeup, deliberately evocative of the Arab world. At a time when tightlacing among women was in vogue, she was famous for her tiny, corsetted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches (410 mm).  This accentuated her large bust, which was said to measure 38 inches (970 mm). She stood 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) tall. Her striking appearance, both on and off stage, contributed to her celebrity. For her 1910 supposed “debut” in New York she provocatively allowed herself to be billed in the advance publicity as “the ugliest woman in the world” and departing on a transatlantic liner she was apparently accompanied by a “black slave”. Returning to America in 1913, she brought a diamond-collared pet pig, Mimi, and wore a nose-ring. Talk of her figure and her lavish overdressing in fur coats and dazzling jewels preceded her appearances wherever she went.

Polaire showing of her waist, 1900

Polaire pretending to read via

Carte F.C & Cie – Cliché Boyer & Bert – Vers 1905

Polaire wearing a trademark coat

Polaire dans Le Friquet – Octobre 1904

Polaron on stage, 1904 via

Polaire with her “Black Slave” via