Posed in Wings–and a Bit of Gauze: 1903

Bagnères-de-Luchon statue vallée du Lys Lily of the Valley statue

The Newest Fashionable Folly

POSING FOR NUDE STATUES—THE MARBLE FAD GROWING IN FAVOR AMONG REPRESENTATIVES OF FRENCH SOCIETY.

[Copyrighted, 1903, by W.R. Hearst.]

Paris, Dec. 20. The marble fad is a new fashion set by women who are beautiful, titled, cultured. Those who have assisted them to make the fashion successful are sculptors of note. They present their subjects in white marble exquisitely—a Venus rising from the sea, a lily of the valley against the green of mountains, an angel with head bent in thought.

The rounded limbs, the unhidden curves, the undraped lines of Mme. La Duchesse d’Aosta, of Mme. La Duchess d’Uzes, of Mme. La Comtesse Bela Zichy are being discussed from end to end of Paris. At first everyone gasped. What! the Duchess d’Uzes, wife of the premier Duke of France, whose family has been of uninterrupted prominence since the days of the Crusades, daughter-in-law of the famous Dowager Duchess who was born in De Mortemart, daughter of the De Luynes, a family only second in antiquity to the Uzes? What!

They blinked their eyes only to be dazzled by the marble form of the Duchess d’Aosta, formerly the Princess Helene of Orleans, a Bourbon, daughter of the Count of Paris and sister of the Duke of Orleans, chief pretender of the throne of France. She, the wife of one of the royal princes of Rome, oldest cousin of the King of Italy and his heir should Victor Emmanuel have no sons—she to pose as a Venus—A Venus rising, untrammeled by draperies, out of the sea!

They gazed in amazement next to behold the American Countess Zichy, she who was once the wife of Fernando Yznaga, a sister-in-law of the Dowager Duchess of Manchester, and before that Mabel Wright—the famously beautiful Mabel Wright, of Ward McAllister’s Four Hundred. She is now the wife of Count Bela Zichy of Hungary. She is a beauty of renown, blond as the angel for which she has posed in wings—and a bit of gauze.

She is lovely, but Paris gasps all the same at the exhibit.

Conventionality At A Discount.

One of the sculptors who have assisted in the modeling of much aristocratic loveliness was asked to explain this latest fad. He though deeply for a moment. Then he said: “It is quite comprehensible, even commendable when you consider the strict conventions of our absurd fashions. Among aristocrats, women of race and pedigree, we find the finest limbs, the most tapering extremities, the purest outlines. All praise to those among them who defy the decrees that command them to keep such charms hidden. A woman who has beautiful feet, for instance, has no opportunity to show them in their natural beauty, not even when she bathes in the ocean, for the dullard fashion has decreed that the hideous stocking should cover them. She may have such ankles as an artist dreams of—they may be her only beauty, and one may only have a glimpse of them. Ah, it is enough to drive a woman to suicide—or to marble.”

The Duchess d’Uzes, the Duchess d’Aosta, the Countess Zichy have defied conventions, as Pauline Borghese, the sister of Napoleon I, did nigh upon a century ago. She commanded the assistance of Canova, the great Italy sculptor, and you may see her today in the Borghese collection perpetuated in all her natural loveliness as a marble Venus. When she condescended to give an excuse, she said, with all the insolence for which her family was famous: “I am a Bonaparte—I may do as I please.”

Asked if she were not uncomfortable, she replied nonchalantly: “No, there was a stove in the room.”

It is the excuse that our modern duchesses and countesses may give. Nevertheless, the people gasp, and nevertheless, as people will the world over, they gaze and gaze and gaze to the full satisfaction of the aristocrats who have said “Bah” to the conventions.

The original of the statue called the “lily of the Valley” was unveiled last summer at Bagneres-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees. The Duchess d’Uzes was sojourning there, apparently with no purpose but to drink of the warm suphur springs for which the watering place is celebrated. A number of other guests, all more or less fashionable, were there, too, walking, drinking, gossiping, passing their hours as people do who are taking a cure for no very serious ill.

The event of the summer proved to be the unveiling of the “Lily of the Valley.” Cast in whitest marble, it was set before a background of green trees and dark rocks.

The Summer’s Sensation.

The effect was startling. More so was the resemblance.

“What?” “No!” “Impossible! And yet”—

The spectators declared they couldn’t believe their eyes. Day after day they studied intently the Duchess d’Uzes. Between drinks they made mental notes of her lines. During their walks they discussed the striking similarities of figure, of pose, of feature between the lovely, draped duchess and the lovely, undraped statue of the “Lily of the Valley.”
Could it be possible?

Day after day the young Duchess passed them driving, looking the picture of modesty. Day after day she cantered by on one of the horses which she rides so famously. They observed her lies and recalled her reputation for fearlessness. It was she who set the fashion of ballooning for women when the season of gayety threatened to become monotonous. She is original, enterprising, daring, and above all, beautiful—the guests at Bagneres went again and again to look at the now celebrated statue.

There it stood, classically serene, challenging comparison with the old Greek statues, whose models one may never know.

The resemblance was not to be disputed—the “lily of the Valley” was the Duchess d’Uzes. Every day during her sojourn at Bagneses she had visited the studio of the great artist who was to perpetuate her in marble. She had gone secretly and alone. Accused by one of her set of cowardice, she explained:
“To pose for an undraped statue is as yet considered unconventional; therefore, one does not announce it to the world. But if one is beautiful…”

The Duchess D’Uzes.

The Duchess’ excuse found an echo in the heart of the Duchess d’Aosta, who is of the daughters of the late Count of Paris is the loveliest. It has been said of her that even if she were not of royal blood she would be considered handsome. She might, in that event, however, be more rudely censured. As it is, she shocks society and still remains in it, a maneuver, by the way, not confined to Italy or France alone.

The Duchess is clever, restless, courageous and not in love with her husband. Only a few years ago she startled all Europe by announcing her intention to leave him. He had done nothing wrong, and was undeniably attached to his handsome wife, but she was tired of him that was all there was against him. It was enough until her ambition came to the rescue. The possibility of giving an heir to the throne of Italy persuaded her to retain her position of Duchess d’Aosta. This is history, so too are the Duchess’ love affairs, so too are. the duels that have been fought by the Duke on her account.

Vanitas Vanitatum.

And now comes the episode of the statue. This time the Duchess has shocked profoundly. Her mother, the Countess of Paris, who is a lady to her finger tips, is in despair; the King of Italy is furious; the Duke is at his wits’ end. There is no one he can challenge. He does not dare to denounce those who point to the lovely Venus as his wife’s portrait, because above the graceful figure her features are too plainly sculptured. Photographs of the statue are for sale everywhere, and the Duchess is calm in the midst of a tremendous family row. To prove this they tell the following anecdote of her:

One of her intimate friends sympathized with her deeply. “Poor woman,” she said, “with your beauty they want you to remain forever in obscurity. But tell me, was it not very uncomfortable posing—without–well, as the statue is?”

The Duchess looked at her from under her wealth of golden hair and firm but clear, steady blue eyes. “Oh, no,” she answered reminiscently of the Borghese princess, “the studio was well heated. I was most comfortable, I assure you.”

The fad to have your friends see how charming marble may make you grows. In its progress it has claimed the Countess Bela Zichy. Of her the sculptor D’Epiny [Prosper D’Epinay] says: “She is, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He has done his best to prove this to the world in the statue he has made of her.”

However some dozen or more years ago, when she was Mabel Wright, a girl designing calicoes to assist her father, who was at work in a print factory, her beauty was recognized without the aid of either painters or sculptors. Without fame or fortune she made her way into the heart of Mrs. Astor’s “Four Hundred,” and there met and married Fernando Yznaga, brother of Consuelo, the present Dowager Duchess of Manchester, for whom the present Duchess of Marlborough was named.

How The Nude Craze Has Grown.

Unhappiness, divorce and all the things that lead to a second marriage followed in quick succession, and the American girl became a Hungarian Countess. Since then she has lived much in the great world abroad. Naturally she has made its fashions here.

But the end is not yet. It has Just been said that King Victor. Emmanuel is furious. He has read the riot act to his cousin’s beautiful wife, and has forcibly reminded her of the fate of that other beautiful Duchess of Aosta, Laetitia. The unconventional and dashing Laetitia, when she persisted in her flirtatious conduct with army officers and riding astride in public on a bicycle was sent to prison to do penance and was threatened if she did not cool down the King would take away her allowance and she could shift for herself.

The younger Duchess, more intrepid than her young mother-in-law, has snapped her fingers in the face of the King and has announced if he tried any such summary punishment on her she would scandalize Italy at this very ticklish point in the affairs of the country by suing for a divorce. This has made the King even more furious, and he has retaliated by saying if she did such a thing he would see to it that her position in any court of Europe would be forfeited.

And so the situation now stands. In the case of the Countess Bela-Zichy another royal rumpus has been aroused. While the Count stands by his wife and insists that the statue is an exquisite expression of purity, the court ladies of Austria, with the Emperor in sympathy with them, have made, it.is said, a secret compact to completely ostracize the lovely blonde countess if it is really proved beyond dispute that she posed as a diaphanous angel. The Austro-Hungarian court is one of the stiffest in Europe for etiquette, and if the case is decided against the Countess Bela Zichy her social position will be ruined.

The row in the D’Uzes family has become so intense over the nude posing of their young Duchess that nobody quite knows yet what the family council will decide to do.

Consequences Of This Folly.

However daring these aristocrats may be, the setting of conventionalities at defiance in statuary or paintings is not original with them. We can recall, for Instance, when Cleo de Merode, the lovely ballet dancer, posed for the sculptor Falguiere; also the sensation that followed the announcement that Mme. du Gast was the model for Gervex’s painting of “The Nude Lady With the Black Mask.” It is true that Mile, de Merode denied that she had posed for anything but the head of the statue called “The Dancer.” It is also true that Mme. du Gast sued those who had dared to say she was the original of the lady who might be just about to slip into her bath.

Henri Gervex Le modèle masqué nude model masked

The fad for being photographed, painted, hewn in marble, grows. Is it due to vanity? Apropos, here is a story told of a woman well known in the world of society. It happened at a time when she had been admired immensely, but, being very young, had been seen but little. She was strictly chaperoned everywhere by her mother, who superintended also the cut of her gowns. She was permitted to wear what might be described as a very modest décolleté to parties or dinners. On a certain occasion she was visiting at a country house without her mother. It was night. She was alone in her room, undressing. In a mirror her figure, girlish, charming, graceful, was reflected. She moved and smiled; she moved and sighed. Then she looked at herself intently and took note of her charms. It seemed to her a pity that no eyes should see them but her own. It seemed such a pity that she sallied forth to the library below, with a lighted candle In One hand and her eyes tightly closed.

She encountered her host and some of his guests–judges of beauty. They said she had walked in her sleep. She encountered her hostess, who declared her guest was wide awake. Either way, a record of her loveliness flew through society. Her defenders said she was so exquisite, endowed with such purity of line, that it would have been a shame to keep it hidden always–forever under drapery. The girl thought so, too. This was before Madame la Duchesse d’Aosta, Madame la Duchesse d’Uzes and Madame la Comtesse Zichy had set their approval upon the marble fad as the very latest artistic solace for woman’s vanity.

The Baltimore [MD] Sun 27 December 1903: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Obviously Mr William Randolph Hurst warmed to his theme, no doubt with the aide of a stove in the room.

While we do not often see Duchesses and Countesses posing as nature made them for exquisite expressions of purity in marble or bronze, reality TV stars and athletes more than fill the void with lingerie “selfies” and ESPN’s “The Body” issue. Plus ça change…

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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