La Belle Otero, emblem of the Belle Époque

La Belle Otero, emblem of the Belle Époque

  • La Belle Otero.

  • La Belle Otero.

  • La Belle Otero.

  • La Belle Otero.

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Title: La Belle Otero.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 13.5 - Width 9.5

Technique and other indications: Albumen print, Atelier Reutlinger. Around 1895.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 02-007918 / PHO2001-11-55

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: La Belle Otero.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 13.5 - Width 9.5

Technique and other indications: Reutlinger workshop. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 02-007609 / PHO2001-11-56

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: La Belle Otero.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 14.8 - Width 10.2

Technique and other indications: Reutlinger workshop. Around 1895.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 97-012044 / PHO1997-2-34

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: La Belle Otero.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 14.5 - Width 10.3

Technique and other indications: Reutlinger workshop. Ojedas website

Picture reference: 97-012036 / Pho1997-2-30

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: April 2011

Agrégée in Italian, Doctorate in Contemporary History at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Historical context

The Spanish sun in Parisian theaters

The fever of exoticism ran through Europe throughout the 19th century, influencing literature, the figurative and decorative arts, music and the performing arts; in particular, the charm of more or less distant countries adorns operas, ballets and other forms of entertainment. Among the "exotic" countries, Spain wields a very strong power of attraction, especially under the Second Empire, thanks to the beautiful Eugenie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III and host of the "imperial festival"; its proximity to France also favors the passage to Paris of many artists in search of fame. Among her students are Liane de Pougy, Émilienne d´Alençon and Belle Otero, a Spaniard who, unlike her two gallant rivals, has a real talent as a dancer, cultivated as an autodidact from her childhood.

Caroline Otero, born Agustina Otero Iglesias on November 4, 1868 in Pontevedra (Galicia), of a gypsy mother and unknown father, lived a childhood and adolescence marked by poverty and violence; to forget her sorrows and provide for her needs, she dances in the streets and inns, then in small cabarets, in Spain and Portugal. On May 18, 1890, the young Spanish girl made her debut at Charles Franconi's Summer Circus; four days later, The Parisian evening attributes the adjective "Beautiful" to her, which is therefore inextricably linked to her name. Left by the dancer in 1895, Jurgens ended her life: other abandoned lovers followed her example, which earned Belle Otero the nickname "siren of suicides" and contributed to her fame as a femme fatale.

The women of spectacle and demi-mondaines of the Belle Époque owe a large part of their notoriety to the international distribution of postcards and other objects bearing their image: the Parisian beauties (Cléo de Mérode, Liane de Pougy, Émilienne d 'Alençon, Réjane) are aimed at the best photographic workshops in the capital, run by the Nadar and Reutlinger families. Located at 21, boulevard Montmartre and at 112, rue de Richelieu, the Reutlinger workshops, run from 1850 to 1880 by Charles, their founder, then by his brother Émile (1880-1890) and by his nephew Léopold (1890-1930), count the Belle Otero among their clients.

Image Analysis

Looks (almost) innocent

These four photos, taken by the Reutlinger workshop, show the Spanish dancer in stage costume: on the first two shots and on the fourth, she wears the same crowned dress and the same showy jewelry, to which is added, on the first cliché, a wreath of roses that she adjusts flirtatiously on her head and a little smile as mischievous as her gaze. In the third photo, the Belle Otero poses as a devout Spanish girl, hands joined and a virtuous air. But the finely embroidered veil that covers her head does not hide the pearls that adorn her hair: she plays the penitent Magdalene without renouncing her passion for real jewelry, which she wears on stage as in the city, for the greatest happiness of the Boucheron and Cartier jewelers.

La Belle Otero's intense and "Mediterranean" gaze is also highlighted by the second photo, where the beautiful dancer displays an air of almost childish innocence which, she knows well, has a strong attraction for the men of La Belle. Period: Didn't Cléo de Mérode build her success on her angelic beauty?

In the fourth shot Caroline associates the role of the naive girl with the erotic fantasy of the sleeping beauty. Softly abandoned on a sofa, in an attitude forbidden to any well-bred woman, her legs crossed lifting her petticoats and revealing her ankles and calves, the Belle Otero, her head resting on her left shoulder, pretends to be asleep, and ... the viewer pretends to believe her. As beautiful as the times of which it is the emblem, Otero shines in a society that Javier Figuero and Marie-Hélène Carbonel describe as "schizophrenic [...], always straddling the values ​​of respectability and the vertigo of pleasures".

Interpretation

Interpretation - The revenge of the "suicide siren"

In her memoirs, the Belle Otero tends to make up, even to invent many details, but it is in all sincerity that she affirms to have dedicated herself to the ruin of the men whom she seduces, although she does not. never explains the reason: at the age of ten, she was raped by a shoemaker who escaped justice, while she, driven out by her mother, was forced to leave her village and lead a wandering life , dancing and prostituting in small provincial inns. She does not talk about her sterility, caused, as a teenager, by an abortion forced by her lover and pimp: only the episode of abortion is mentioned in her memoirs. In a society which adores "the Woman" without loving "the women" and which divides the fairer sex into three categories, the virgin, the wife and the prostitute, the Beautiful Otero uses the only means which is allowed to her, the seduction, to take revenge on the men, who only seek in her a pretty animated doll that they like to pay dearly to display their (financial) power against their rivals. She achieves her goal, not only by her beauty, but also by the wild sensuality of a true "panther in heat" (in the words of Jacques Sigurd) that her dance reveals.

Star of the Folies-Bergère, this Spaniard, endowed with a charming blend of sensuality, candor and comic verve, claims her status as an artist in the face of "showwomen", such as the hated Liane de Pougy; A friend of the latter, Jean Lorrain unfairly qualifies the Belle Otero as a "dancing goose".

In her forties, Belle Otero leaves the stage to be remembered as a still young and desirable woman. Ruined by the demon of the game, the former mistress of many crowned heads died in Nice on April 10, 1965, in utter destitution, at the age of eighty-six.

  • dance
  • women
  • stardom
  • courtesan
  • casserole

Bibliography

Marie-Hélène CARBONEL and Javier FIGUERO, The True Biography of Belle Otero and the Belle Époque, Paris, Fayard, 2003. Marie-Hélène CARBONEL and Javier FIGUERO, La Belle Otero through Reutlinger's lens, Monaco, Éditions du Compas, 2009.Claude DUFRESNE, Three graces from the Belle Époque, Paris, Bartillot, 2003.Sylvie JOUANNY, The Actress and Her Doubles: Figures and Representation of the Performer at the End of the 19th Century, Geneva, Droz, 2002.Caroline OTERO, Memories and intimate life, by Belle Otero, Paris, Le Calame, 1926, reprint Monaco, Éditions Sauret, 1993.

To cite this article

Gabriella ASARO, "La Belle Otero, emblem of the Belle Époque"