The Parisian
courtesan

In 1894, Anglada-Camarasa arrived for the first time in Paris, the world capital of art, culture and fashion, while also the capital of pleasure, especially since Baron Haussmann had ordered the city’s urban layout reformed with the construction of wide boulevards, new squares and parks that allowed the public to enjoy their citizenship.

In the context of the Belle Époque, many artists went to Paris to train and savour all these pleasures. Anglada would go out at night with friends to capture the atmosphere of nightlife venues under the effects of electric lights, a great novelty at the time, in places like Moulin Rouge as well as venues like the Jardin de Paris or Casino de Paris. Fascinated by Parisian women, whom he viewed as elegant, cunning and actively sexual, these spaces were where he began to notice Parisian courtesans, also known as ‘cocottes’ or ‘demimondaines’.

Casino de Paris

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1900
Oil on wooden board
50 x 80 cm
Private collection. Photo: © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images

The first important works that Anglada-Camarasa made when he arrived in Paris, in a style attuned to postimpressionism and the Decadent movement, capture the festive, nocturnal atmosphere in the pleasure capital. Casino de Paris is one example of this; however, many of the painter’s works show other venues and dives such as Jardin de Paris and Moulin Rouge, in the latter of which the lower classes mingled with the bourgeoisie. However, Anglada’s social predilections were clear: he was not interested in portraying the lower classes and their marginality or lower-class prostitutes; rather, he was fascinated by the worldly, urbane Paris that shone around him. Nonetheless, his works often nod to Toulouse-Lautrec, whom he surely met in his nocturnal forays to the Moulin Rouge. Precisely Casino de Paris takes the compositional reference from the At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance which the Frenchman had painted ten years earlier.

Author unknown. General view of the festive atmosphere one night at the Casino de Paris, an urbane venue in Belle Époque Paris, 1900. The Print Collector / Alamy.

At the Moulin Rouge, the Dance

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
1890
Oil on canvas
115 x 150 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fashion and
rivalry

The demimondaines were the leaders of Parisian fashion and rivalled each other for the latest novelties, which were quickly acquired by the madames. ‘If you were to see the costumes worn by these vixens, said Anglada in a letter after he arrived in Paris,you would be amazed; I was left gape-mouthed when they took me to the Casino de Paris (…) where only the great cocottes go; there you would see the most beautiful things, some costumes that couldn’t be surpassed, some fur coats that surely had to cost an arm and a leg or two’. The courtesans depicted by the artist are wearing the fashions of the day: large hats, curvy silhouettes, lace and transparent fabrics, soft shades such as pastel pink, pale blue or mauve, black dresses with shiny stitching all over them, and a touch of red in allusion to their powerful sexuality. The fabrics reflect the radiant gold of the electric lights, while also evoking the gold that flooded these premises.

The Opals

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
c. 1904
Oil on wooden board
85.5 x 151.5 cm
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The most coveted courtesans of the Belle Époque Paris included the trio of Cléo de Mérode, Liane de Pougy and Carolina Otero, the latter better known as ‘La Belle Otero’. There were other well-known names following in the footsteps of these ‘queens of Paris’, such as Émilienne d’Alençon, Lina Cavalieri, Gaby Deslys and Suzanne Derval. All of them were beauty and fashion leaders who were repeatedly portrayed on postcards, advertisements, the press and fashion magazines as paragons of beauty who the madames of the French capital followed. At a time when sexuality was only considered outside of marriage, the ladies of Paris were forced to accept their role as reproducers and follow the fashion trends dictated by the courtesans.

Jean Reutlinger. Portrait of the Parisian courtesan Liane de Pougy, c. 1900. Taken from the Album Reutlinger de portraits divers, vol. 9, 1891-1914, plate 27. Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Léopold Reutlinger. Portrait of the Parisian courtesan Cléo de Mérode in a walking dress, c. 1896. Taken from the advertisement of the cigarette plate of Cigarettes Compagnie Russe J. Sadzawka. Rijksmuseum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There were many magazines published about women’s fashion in Paris in 1900. The most relevant ones included:

The dialectic
of the gaze

Fascinated by the cocottes, in his earliest works in Paris, Anglada focused on portraying these ‘other’ women and on the flirtation that emerged between them and their male clients, that is, the white bourgeois or aristocratic men who did not believe sexuality fit within the family structure. These themes ranged from prostitutes waiting, walking and exhibiting themselves in these nocturnal spaces, both indoors and outdoors, to the arrival of a bouquet of flowers or, in the best of cases, a protective lover. The artist placed the spectator in the role of the voyeur, the potential consumer of these things, whom the courtesan challenges with her gaze to reveal the hypocrisy of this social elite with a fine irony.

Champs Élysées

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
Paris, 1904
Oil on board
81 x 120 cm
Museu de Montserrat, 200.362 / Donated by Josep Sala Ardiz, 1980

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the aims of Western women’s fashion was to hide the surface of the female body. Even giving a fleeting glimpse of an ankle made male voyeurs tremble, and they delighted on rainy days when women walked down the streets lifting their skirts to keep them from getting wet in the puddles. The courtesans of Champs Élysées are captured by Anglada at the very moment they were making this fetishistic gesture, when they display the sinuous shape of their feet and ankles as they are about to cross the street. This was a voyeuristic fantasy of the wealthy men of the day heightened by the staging of the iconography of female friends, which evoked sapphic love: two courtesans, one blonde, the other brunette, openly offer themselves to the client-spectator who has stopped in right the middle of the Champs Élysées at the nocturnal exit from the Jardin de Paris.

The Parisian press made much of the romance between the famous courtesans Liane de Pougy and Suzanne Derval, treating the affair sarcastically. This photograph of both cocottes was on the cover of the first issue of the magazine Le Plaisir on 1 March 1906. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1207313g/f5.item

Fleurs de Paris / Fleurs du mal

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1902-1903
Oil on wooden board
59 x 72.5 cm
Ars Casacuberta Marsans, Barcelona

The title Fleurs de Paris undoubtedly evokes the most prominent work of symbolist literature, Charles Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal. This collection of poems, first published in 1857, scandalised the conformist society of the time, which considered some of the poems immoral. One of the most remarkable aspects of the book is its ambivalent image of women, who are either angels or demons. This iconography with symbolist roots deeply influenced Hermen Anglada’s work, especially during his early years in Paris. In fact, the artist had once likened himself to a Baudelaire of painting.

Frontispiece of the first edition of Les fleurs du mal with handwritten annotations by Baudelaire, 1857. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b86108314/f53.item

In the Theatre Box

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
c. 1901-1902
Oil on board
23.3 x 33 cm
Masaveu Collection

In the Belle Époque, one of the most frequent spaces where wealthy men could openly act as voyeurs was the theatre. The audience, naturally its male members, were eager to peer through binoculars at the madames in the audience, who always stood in the front row of their respective boxes to show off. Hermen Anglada painted several scenes of women, all of them courtesans, in theatre boxes. In some works, they appear alone, clad in their iridescent bodices and robes, waiting for a client whose gaze they overtly returned; in others, the client, who was sometimes depicted grotesquely, had already burst into the box and captured the courtesans’ attention. With these paintings, Anglada placed the spectator in the role of the client, inside a theatre box on the same level and across from him, in order to reveal the moral hypocrisies of Parisian high society.

Ballet de “Robert le Diable”

Edgar Degas
1871
815 Gallery, Kansas City

Many impressionist paintings depict the world of theatre, where the audience is the main protagonist. In this work, as an opera scene is unfolding, Degas shows a man at the centre of the image, just behind the orchestra musicians, who is indifferent to the action and is instead training his binoculars on the audience.

The Theatre Box

Auguste Renoir
1874
Courtauld Institute of Art
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The same voyeuristic act appears in this Renoir work, where the man is delightedly observing a woman in an upper theatre box.

In the Loge

Mary Cassatt
1878
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In this work by Mary Cassatt, the women take on the role of voyeurs, actively watching what is happening on the stage. However, in another box in the background, a man is closely examining her through binoculars.

Decadent
beauty

In contrast to the opulence and luxury of bourgeois and aristocratic circles, the courtesans represented by Anglada-Camarasa are tragic, phantasmagorical beings, living corpses. The world of death both fascinated and distressed the nineteenth-century decadents, and prostitutes were seen as transmitters of venereal diseases, such as syphilis, a symptom viewed as the degeneration of the race. Accordingly, at the turn of the century, Anglada represented cocottes as spectres, artificial, ailing beings, fugitives, with ivory skin, blurred profiles, mask-like faces and frightened gazes, and with greenish undertones from the artificial light that evoke the world of death.

Mur céramique (Ceramic Wall)

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1904
Oil on wooden board
32.5 x 41 cm
Masaveu Collection

Women in a Garden, Paris

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1902-1903
Oil on wooden board
35 x 26.5 cm
ABANCA Art Collection

A taste for the world of death, the occult, spiritualism and other similar phenomena emerged in the context of symbolism, leading to the spread of ghost photography. Images of spirits, fluids and mediums proliferated throughout Europe starting in the 1870s. While some photographers conceived their shots as an expression of true spirits, others scoffed at this imagery, and yet a third group emphasised the more playful and recreational side, as many amateurs were experimenting with the medium of photography. This iconography naturally reached the world of painting.

William Hope. Photograph of a man with the spirit of a woman, early twentieth century. National Media Museum, Bradford, UK. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Animal instincts,
artificial paradises

At a time when early anthropology, sociology and biology were spreading the idea that women were shameful beings, especially if they led promiscuous lives, symbolism often used the resource of associating prostitutes with animals. Likewise, Anglada’s courtesans evolve into curvilinear silhouettes, reptiles or mantis-like beings with robotic movements, chrysalises or solitary glow-worms in landscaped environments, magpies chasing money or peacocks boasting opulent beauty.

This animalistic nature is exaggerated when the courtesans consumed morphine publicly, after which they fell into a state of euphoria and suspension, abstraction from reality, as is obvious from their hallucinatory eyes and agitated attitudes. For ladies at the turn of the century, drugs were a refuge against the boredom and in favour of dissipation, a vice that was public and denoted the decadence of these elites.

Le paon blanc (The White Peacock)

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1904
Oil on wooden board
78.5 x 99.5 cm
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, illustration for the book by Maurice Talmeyr Les possédés de la morphine. París, Librairie Plon, 1892. Photo: Look and Learn.

The Morphine Addict

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
1902
Oil on canvas
33 x 40 cm
Private collection

La Vitrioleuse

Eugène Grasset
1894
Honolulu Museum of Art
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Drug

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa
c. 1901-1903
Oil on canvas
70 x 91.5 cm
Private collection. Photo: VEGAP Image bank

Hermen Anglada portrayed with his students when he was a teacher at the Vitti Academy in Paris, 1902. Anglada-Camarasa family archive, Port de Pollença. The photograph shows that there were many female students enrolled.

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