Vintage Photos of French Salon Queen Comtesse Greffulhe (1860-1952)

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.

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Comtesse Greffulhe photographed by Otto Wegener (around 1886)

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Comtesse Greffulhe  wearing a ball gown photographed by Otto Wegener (ca. 1887) via

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Comtesse Greffulhe looking sideways photographed by Félix Nadar, 1900 via

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Comtesse Greffulhe shows off her bare shoulder and, fashionably semi-concealed, her striking figure in a turn-of-the-century dress via

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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

 

 

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

 

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