Aristocrat, Élisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe (1860 – 1952) was a renowned beauty and queen of the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain in Paris. She was the daughter of Joseph de Riquet de Caraman and his wife Marie de Montesquiou-Fezensac. In 1881 she married the unfaithful, quick-tempered Henri, Count Greffulhe (1848-1932), of the Belgian family of bankers. The comtesse has been described in these words:
“The Comtesse Greffulhe is always beautiful and always elsewhere. But it would be a mistake to think that her life was merely the pursuit of pleasure (…) not only is she beautiful, but she is a lady. Preferring the privacy of her own house in the rue d’Astorg and at Bois-Boudran in the country, the Comtesse Greffulhe never dined out except at the British Embassy. When Edward VII came to Paris, he dined informally at her house. After a restricted youth (…) she set herself to attracting musicians, scholars, physicists, chemists, doctors.”
She regularly entertained the cream of Parisian society at her salon in the rue d’Astorg. The comtesse helped establish the art of James Whistler, and she actively promoted such artists as Auguste Rodin, Antonio de La Gandara and Gustave Moreau.
She was the inspiration for the Duchess of Guermantes in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, she regularly ordered – notably from Worth – sumptuous outfits that highlighted her splendid waist. She was a patron of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, and launched a fashion for greyhound racing.
Fascinated by science, she helped Marie Curie to finance the creation of the Institute of Radium, and Edouard Branly to pursue his researches on radiotransmission and telemechanical systems.
Comtesse Greffulhe photographed by Otto Wegener (around 1886)
Comtesse Greffulhe wearing a ball gown photographed by Otto Wegener (ca. 1887) via
Comtesse Greffulhe looking sideways photographed by Félix Nadar (1900) via
Comtesse Greffulhe shows off her bare shoulder and, fashionably semi-concealed, her striking figure in a turn-of-the-century dress via
In this puzzling image, Comtesse Greffulhe is seen embracing her own double. The Comtesse wears an elaborate dress with decorated blouson bodice and swirling fabric and a simple dress that could be worn today (1899) via