A Collection of Vintage Photos featuring the Countess de Castiglione (La Divine Comtesse)

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837 – 1899), better known as La Castiglione, was an Italian aristocrat who was a special agent for the cause of Italian unification, the mistress of Napoleon III, and a mysterious recluse notorious for her numerous love affairs. She was born to a noble Florentine family and at 17 she married the Count di Castiglione. It was a bad match; she cheated on him shamelessly and eventually left him bankrupt. In 1857 they separated. She left Paris in 1858, due to the scandal surrounding her liaison with Napoléon III.

Before that, while still living in Paris, the Countess had created a sensation. The beautiful statuesque countess was both decadent and extravagant. Lavish balls where prevalent during the period and she became known for her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. One of her most infamous outfits was a “Queen of Hearts” costume. She was even considered the most beautiful woman of her time and was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, pale skin, a delicate oval face, and eyes that constantly changed colour from green to an extraordinary blue-violet. Her vanity was as famous as her beauty and she would send albums of her portraits to friends and admirers.

In 1865 she arrived in Paris again, to plead for Italian unity on behalf of her cousin, then a minister to the king of Sardinia. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Oldoini led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation as to her affairs. Her declining years were spent in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms decorated in funereal black, the blinds kept drawn, and mirrors banished—apparently so she would not have to confront her advancing age and loss of beauty. She would only leave the apartment at night.

Photographs

The Countess´s raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally, and she was a significant figure in the early history of photography.

In 1856 she began sitting for the firm Mayer and Pierson, photographers favored by the imperial court. Over the next four decades she directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her create 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. She spent a large part of her personal fortune and even went into debt to execute the project. Most of the photographs depict the Countess in her theatrical outfits, such as the Queen of Hearts dress. Many of the portraits record the countess’s triumphant moments in Parisian society, wearing the extravagant gowns and costumes in which she appeared at soirées and masked balls, in others she assumes roles drawn from the theater, opera, literature, and her own imagination.

A number of photographs depict her in poses risqué for the era—notably, images that expose her bare legs and feet. In these photos, her head is cropped out.

Robert de Montesquiou, a Symbolist poet, dandy, and avid art collector, was fascinated by the Countess. He spent thirteen years writing a biography, La Divine Comtesse, which appeared in 1913. After her death, he collected 433 of her photographs, all of which entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Scherzo di Follia

Scherzo di Follia by Pierre-Louis Pierson 1863–66, printed 1940s

[The Opera Ball]

The Opera Ball by Pierre-Louis Pierson,1861–67, printed 1895–1910

Sunday by Pierre Louis Pierson, 1860s

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass]

Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass by Pierre-Louis Pierson,1861–67

La Marquise Mathilde

La Marquise Mathilde by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–66

A Collection Of Vintage Photos featuring Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova  (1881 – 1931) was a Russian Empire ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. She is widely regarded as one of the finest classical ballet dancers in history and was most noted as a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev.

Young Pavlova’s years of training were difficult. Classical ballet did not come easily to her. Her severely arched feet, thin ankles, and long limbs clashed with the small and compact body in favour for the ballerina at the time. Her fellow students taunted her with such nicknames as The broom and The little savage. Undeterred, Pavlova trained to improve her technique and  took extra lessons from the noted teachers of the day. Many of her famous qoutes are about hard work paying of e.g.:

Success depends in a very large measure upon individual initiative and exertion, and cannot be achieved except by a dint of hard work

Pavlova is perhaps most renowned for creating the role of The Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Michel Fokine. The ballet, created in 1905, is danced to Le cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.

While touring in The Hague, Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.” She died of pleurisy, three weeks short of her 50th birthday.

Anna Pavlova, costumed as The dying swan (5)

Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova

The Dying Swan

The short ballet follows the last moments in the life of a swan, and was first presented in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905. Pavlova performed the dance about 4,000 times. The ballet has since influenced modern interpretations of Odette in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and has inspired non-traditional interpretations and various adaptations.

The Most Wonderful Hair in Europe! Vintage Photos of Cantatrice Aline Vallandri

Cantatrice Aline Vallandri (1878 – 1952) was born in Paris and made her debut in 1904 at the Opéra-Comique, where she thrived for nearly thirty years. However, her operatic successes were scarcely more renowned than the phenomenal beauty of her golden locks. The secret behind them she claimed was:

“It was when I was sent to a convent to finish my education that my hair began to grow luxuriantly. One of the nuns had a special lotion which she used for her hair. She gave me the recipe for it, and I have used it ever since. Unfortunately, I cannot make the recipe public, as I promised to keep it a secret. Every doctor, however, can give a prescription which, if persevered in, will make the hair grow” (Source)
Aline Vallandri via
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Aline Vallandri via
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Aline Vallandri via
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A Collection of Vintage Photos featuring Princesse Clara Ward

The story of Clara Ward (1873 – 1916) is poorly known today, but in the early 1890s she was the toast of the United States.

She came to the public’s attention in 1889 or early 1890 when it was announced that the distinguished Belgian visitor to the United States, Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet, Prince de Caraman-Chimay, a member of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies, had proposed marriage to the very young, very attractive daughter of a very wealthy family.

That her husband-to-be was more than twice her age, quite poor, and even, perhaps, not very handsome, seems to have been of minor consequence.

They were married on 19 May 1890, in fin-de-siècle Paris. Ward was now properly styled “Princesse de Caraman-Chimay”, but usually went by “Clara, Princess of Chimay”. Americans were ecstatic about their new princess.

Some time after the birth of their second child, probably in 1896, the Prince and Princess Chimay were dining in Paris, at what may be expected to have been a suitably elegant establishment. Present at the restaurant was a Hungarian, Rigó Jancsi, who eked out a living providing Gypsy music.

After a series of secret meetings, Ward and Rigó eloped in December 1896. The Prince and Princesse de Caraman-Chimay were divorced on 19 January 1897. The new couple married, probably in Hungary.

Not too surprisingly, Clara Ward, still usually called the Princess Chimay, soon found her resources dwindling. The never-very-full Chimay coffers were certainly closed to her, and although Ward was resourceful, her American family had to intervene from time to time to straighten out her tangled finances.

Her main talents were being beautiful by the standards of the time, and being famous. She combined the two by posing on various stages, including at least the Folies Bergère and probably also the Moulin Rouge, while wearing skin-tight costumes. She called her art-form her poses plastiques.

Perhaps the income from this odd occupation was sufficient for the couple to live reasonably well. The idyll was not to last, Rigó being unfaithful to her. They were divorced fairly soon after their marriage, either shortly before or after Ward met her next true love, one Peppino Ricciardo, sometimes stated to have been Spanish, but who was most likely Italian. He is believed to have been a waiter whom she met on a train.

They married in 1904, but Peppino Ricciardo probably did not last long. The timing is vague, but Ward’s next true love, and her last husband, is thought to have been a station manager of the little Italian railroad that helped visitors tour Mount Vesuvius, a Signore Cassalota. Ward is believed to have still been married to her fourth husband when she died in Padua, Italy, on 9 December 1916, aged 43. There was a rumor that she died a pauper with nothing left except a few jewels. But the American Consul at Venice stated publicly that she “was in possesion of a very large income and lived in a manner befitting its possessor

In her lifetime she had spent much time in both the society and gossip columns of two continents. She had been widely known, envied and admired, desired, loathed and reviled. She was often photographed, and featured on many postcards during the Edwardian period, sometimes in a pose plastique and sometimes in more or less conventional dress.

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A young Clara Ward

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Clara Ward, postcard via

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Clara Ward, Postcard via

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Clara ward via

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Clara Ward, Postcard via

Clara Ward with Rigo Jancsi – Triomphe de la Femme, 1905 via

Clara Ward, by Léopold-Emile Reutlinger, ca. 1905 via

 

A Collection of Vintage Photos featuring Maud Allan the Salomé Dancer

Canadian pianist-turned-actor, dancer and choreographer Maud Allan (1873 – 1956) was born as Beulah Maude Durrant. She spent her early years in San Francisco, California, moving to Germany in 1895 to study piano at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. She changed her name in part by the scandal surrounding her brother Theodore Durrant, who was hanged in 1898 for murder. Allan never recuperated from the trauma of this event. She abandoned piano-playing and developed a new means of self-expression through dance.

Shortly before she began dancing professionally Allan is said to have illustrated an encyclopedia for women titled Illustriertes Konversations-Lexikon der Frau.

In 1906 her production “Vision of Salomé” opened in Vienna. Based loosely on Oscar Wilde’s play ,Salomé, her version of the Dance of the Seven Veils became famous (and to some notorious) and she was billed as “The Salomé Dancer”. Her book My Life and Dancing was published in 1908 and that year she took England by storm in a tour in which she did 250 performances in less than one year.

Allan is remembered for her “famously impressionistic mood settings”. She was athletic, had great imagination and even designed  and sewed her own costumes. But she had little formal dance training. She was once compared to professional dancer and legend Isadora Duncan, which greatly enraged her, as she disliked Duncan.

Around 1918 Allan’s popularity began to take a turn. In a hope of earning back some of her public adoration she starred in a private performance of the ‘Vision of Salome’ and irked homophobic right-wing nationalist MP Noel Pemberton Billing. Mr Billing wanted Allan’s downfall as there was a rumor circulating that she had a lesbian affair with Margot Asquith, the wife of former prime minister Herbert Asquith. He believed that Allan and the Asquiths were all German spies; which he implied in an article. Allan sued Billing for criminal libel, but she lost the case.

Hence, from the 1920s on Allan taught dance and she lived with her secretary and lover, Verna Aldrich. She died in Los Angeles, California.

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Maud Allan, ca. 1906 via

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Maud Allan as Salome, ca. 1906 via

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Maud Allan as Salome, c.1906 via

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Maud Allan as Salome, ca. 1906 via

NPG x83002; Maud Allan by Bassano

Maud Allan by Bassano, 1913 via

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Maud Allan by Reutlinger, 1909 via

Edwardian Actress Gabrielle Ray by Bassano (1900s)

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Gabrielle Ray by Bassano Ltd, published by Rotary Photographic Co Ltd
bromide postcard print, 1900s. © National Portrait Gallery, London via

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Gabrielle Ray by Bassano Ltd, published by Rotary Photographic Co Ltd
bromide postcard print, 1900s. © National Portrait Gallery, London via