Tag Archives: Belle Epoque

Racy PJs at the House of Art Nouveau

Budapest’s  House of Art Nouveau is a delightful conglomeration of the possessions of ordinary people during the period of peace and prosperity between the 1890s and the outbreak of the First World War.  This approximate period was known in France as Le Belle Epoque; i wrote about it in several posts about the Paris 1900 Exhibition.  The items I admired last spring in Paris were for the elite; the ones I admired in Budapest were decidedly more humble, but just as charming and thought-provoking.

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In fashion, the period began with Victorian primness and fussiness. The ladies above pose with an ivory comb perfect for hair styled in intricate billows, braids and loops.

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Who was this pretty lady?  The aristocracy had themselves grandly painted life-sized, in oils.  But members of the new middle class were happy to have portraits of their loved ones in humbler pastels and watercolors.


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At some point in the period, respectable women became more daring–possibly inspired by items like this exuberant little nude figurine on a dressing table.

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That new boldness led directly to fashions which would not have amused Queen Victoria. This evening dress looks like a precursor of the flapper dress that became popular in the 1920s.

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And at home, women enjoyed their new freedoms as much as when they were out and about.  On the door of the women’s restroom, I found this charming portrait of a woman wearing pajamas–with pants!  And lighting a cigarette from her bedtime candle! The world was changing, in Budapest as in other cities. The House of Art Nouveau is a delightful wander into the past, and a look at what the future would bring.

Waking Up in a Chateau


Some years ago, I splurged on a stay in an actual French chateau. Sadly, I can’t remember its name, but it was in the Loire Valley. (I’ve learned my lesson:  now I always take a picture of the entry and sign of anyplace I visit). That’s me above, enjoying the grand ambiance–or maybe exhausted after a long confusing drive trying to find the place, before the days I started using GPS. (I credit GPS with saving my marriage, bu that’s another subject).


The main salon had a dome painted fancifully with party guests cavorting and gazing down at festivities below them.  The models were actual friends and relatives of the chateau’s owner. I think the chateau was refurbished in the early 1900s, and the dome painting was done around that time. La Belle Epoque!


For my all-too-brief stay, I could pretend to be one of the party guests drinking champagne under the long-ago moonlit sky.

The reality was not quite as glamorous.  My room was a little threadbare and the mattress was way too hard. The much-hyped “spa” was a dreary basement room with a whirlpool that was not working. In fairness, I have to say that I was traveling in the off-season as usual, so things were probably being repaired.


Still, I was happy to wander the very grand public rooms and walk in the beautiful wooded grounds, following in the footsteps of glamorous–and possibly even royal–people in days gone by.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Nelie and Edouard

Edouard Andre was a scion of a fabulously wealthy Protestant banking family. A measure of the family’s wealth and prestige is that he had his portrait painted by Franz Zavier Winterhalter, who routinely painted royal and imperial subjects all over Europe.

Portrait of Edouard Andre, Winterhalter, Public Domain

Portrait of Edouard Andre, Winterhalter, Public Domain

For some reason, Edouard also chose to have his portrait painted by an up-and-coming society painter, the young Nelie Jacquemart.


The resulting portrait was nondescript.  It hangs in their Belle Epoque mansion, now the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, but relegated to the back of a room display. Andre was one of the most eligible bachelors in Europe at the time.  What went on between Nelie and Andre? Nothing seemed to happen other than the production of an OK portrait, but ten years later they were married. She was 40; he was 48. They shared a passion for collecting art, and they had so much money to spend on art that they decided to work cooperatively with the Louvre so as not to outbid the great museum during sales and auctions.

Nelie gave up her career as a painter and concentrated on taking care of Andre–and spending his money. He designed a beautiful studio for her in their Paris mansion, but it became a gallery for art instead. She left her brushes and tubes of paint behind as soon as she was married.

Self Portrait of Nelie Jacquemart, Public Domain

Self Portrait of Nelie Jacquemart, Public Domain

Their marriage seems to have been very happy.  They hosted glittering society parties in their fabulous mansion of Boulevard Haussman. They traveled at least yearly to Italy to add to their collections. They lived in luxurious rooms replete with satins, marble, and fine woods.


What was not to like? I could get used to life in a Belle Epoque mansion!


Paris Fashion 1900

The Paris 1900 exhibit had delicious examples of the all-important art of dressing–always a priority for the French.  No wonder women who could afford it traveled from England and America just to buy their wardrobes.


I loved this dress, just the thing for attracting admiring glances–and filling up one’s dance card–at a ball. I can hear the music!


Fine leather boots would look fetching while stepping out of a carriage.


An elegant skirt and ruffled blouse, maybe for entertaining in one’s Paris town-home. The sinuous curving lines of Art Nouveau were not just for furniture.  Women delighted in wearing Art Nouveau.

The Belle Epoque–what an era!

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!


Paris: Sin City 1900

P1900PosterOne of the best reasons to travel to Paris is to take in the special exhibits. This past April, I loved the exhibit called “Paris 1900” at the very grand Petit Palais. In 1900, a huge exhibition occupied 500 acres along the Seine River, at the same time that the very first line of the Metro opened.  The exhibition was a celebration of Paris as THE world center of art, innovation, technology, and above all entertainment. Entertainment in Paris 1900 ran the gamut from sublime theater performances to dance halls to houses of prostitution, tailored to all segments of society.

Annoyingly, all the exhibit captions were in French only.  I had to call on my translating skills, which are pretty good but not great. There was an audioguide, but I was short on time.  (When is there ever enough time in Paris?)

"Redemption," Public Domain

“Redemption,” Public Domain

A gorgeous large painting by Julius LeBlanc Stewart poignantly depicts the intersection of high life and low life in the fast-and-loose period known as the Belle Epoque. The title is “Redemption,” painted in 1895. Stewart was an American.  Along with his fellow American, the more well-known John Singer Sargent, he made a nice living doing portraits of society figures. This is a genre painting, on the theme of the repentant prostitute.


A beautiful young girl, dressed in white, stands alone at one end of a dinner table–or rather, probably a table set for supper during a ball. Will this girl make an advantageous marriage?  Or possibly she already has escaped her former life, and hopes she will not be found out. She looks vulnerable, ready to flee.



At the other end of the table, a portly gentleman is working on seducing a bare-shouldered woman.  She holds him off with one hand–but for how long?

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!