Cleo

There is much that is ugly, salacious and downright obscene on the Net and therefore, as a result, it often receives a negative rap. Casting all that aside, there is also much about it worth celebrating; many sites that are worth rhapsodising about – as I’m commencing to do. Such a place, in the ether, is the sublime Musetouch (https://www.facebook.com/MusetouchVisualArtsMagazine). Here much of an exquisite nature can be found – such as sublime photographic mementoes of times long past. There are images of timeless beauty – the fashions, art and luxury items from the end of the Nineteenth Century and the opening decades of the next – as well as the more up to date, reflecting the values of the art/ists/isans of another era. An added attraction are bygone beauties captured for eternity, particularly those of the fin de siècle/Edwardian periods. It is a great source for enriching my own facebook page.

‘MUSETOUCH is a free magazine about visual arts. It has been
created by Maia Sylba out of love and passion for art with
the hope that people will be able to use the publication and
website as a platform to showcase their skills and gain recognition.’

So it was there that I discovered Cléo de Mérode. She had me in raptuous awe from the moment I first lay eyes on her as she stared back at me from the Musetouch timeline. Who was this beautiful young woman with her thick, flowing, pre-Raphaelite locks and visage of alabaster gorgeousness? The girl I had stumbled upon, thanks to the endless facility the internet provides for instant research, turned out to have much more of a story than merely being an unknown subject of a photographer’s camera. Living from 1875 till well into my lifetime (1966), Ms Cléopatra Diane de Mérode is now largely forgotten, but for a time there she was the most talked about woman in the world. It would be a big call to say that because of her our notion of celebrity was invented, but she sure gave it one sizeable kick in the butt. I wasn’t the only viewer to be entranced on first espying her!

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I read of her provenance – and was truly amazed by it. As a result, during one of my bath-time ablutions, I tried to figure out who may be the equivalent to her today. Although not in her thrall as well, the name I came up with was Angelina Jolie. She is a woman who is celebrity because of her class and talent, as well as her looks – as opposed to those trashily tiresome, plastic Kardashians. But for a while there it looked as though our Cléo could have taken the latter route to fame. A nation became obsessed with her love-life and one scandal followed another. Interest in Jolie sells magazines by the squillions with, for our muse – well, she sold something else at around the same amount. For most of her pomp she remained the talk of the town – and that town was Paris. She is buried in Père Lachaise.

She first came to notice as a dancer of the classical, Opéra de Paris variety, before extending her repertoire until she could command the Folies Bergère stage as well. The city on the Seine was captivated. The ladies about ville would emulate how she wore her hair in her latest production – she was the trendsetter for the times. Fandom is no modern incarnation. But her fame went into the stratosphere when Alexandre Falguière sculpted and unveiled ‘The Dancer’, supposedly in her unclad image. It caused a shit storm, Both the creator and subject had to go into damage control, issuing denials in the local rags. Hot on the heels of that, these same presses started linking her to that ancient roué and pillager of the Congo, the sixty plus King of the Belgians, Leopold 11. She was just 22. This blew her now notoriety to fever pitch, even though it is now thought the wily old devil was using the dancing queen as a front for another affair – with a prostitute. It was not long before the great painters of the period came calling. Degas, Klee, Toulouse-Lautrec and especially Klimt, all of whom successfully pleaded with her to pose for their palettes. Nadar pointed his camera at her for stunning portraits.

And it was this latter art form, when superimposed on a card, that spread her fame even wider. For this was the golden era of the postcard. It is postulated that during the Belle Epoque de Mérode became the most photographed subject in the world. A new take on her, in the around six by four inch format, was a hot item in the news-stands and railway stations of the Continent. No images were more sort after, by discerning men and women, than postcards of Cléo.

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They took a while to take flight as a means of communication, as well as for collectors to enthuse over, did postcards They had been around for a while – emerging from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to reach their peak at a world fair, the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in the French capital. Early ones were blank on both sides for writing, but then some canny illustrator or photographer had another idea and they took off. Of course there is a seedier side to the postcard story, but the dancer/celebrity refused to be tarnished with any further despoiling of her name. There was nothing tacky or titillating about her product – she maintained rigorous quality control and the masses adored her for that. She was the embodiment of the ethereal ideal of the modern woman at the time. A glance at any example is enough to convince that she was as pure as the driven snow, being her gender’s ultimate role model. She carried it off perfectly.

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Google her, click on the images and perhaps you’ll see why I was so taken by my initial glance and had to dig deeper. She was mesmerising and still should be. I wonder if her time will come again, like an Isadora Duncan or Sarah Bernhardt, or will she remain in relative obscurity. She deserves to be up there with them.

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To see more of this remarkable woman = http://thefrenchsampler.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/cleo-de-morode.html

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