The Feminine Sphinx



Work this week designing a CD of readings from Colette had me searching books for pictures of the author. Of the few I found this is the most interesting, one of several Colette portraits made by photographer Leopold Reutlinger and one of at least two from 1907 which Colette used to promote her Moulin Rouge pantomime, Rêve d’Égypte. (You can see another one here.) The Egyptian theme explains the sphinx pose and her costume but there’s no indication as to whether the pose was borrowed from Franz Stuck’s famous painting (below) or whether the resemblance is coincidental.


The Sphinx by Franz Stuck (1889).

Stuck produced two nearly identical paintings on this theme; the other version is here in a rather muddy copy. I like the frame design for this one which explains in pictures the secret of the famous riddle which the Sphinx asks of Oedipus, “Which creature goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three in the evening?” Stuck painted another sphinx picture three years earlier, The Kiss of the Sphinx, which portrays a less feminine and distinctly more rapacious hybrid.


Ida Rubenstein.

Colette was famously bisexual and so too was dancer Ida Rubenstein. In the same book as the Colette picture, there’s this photo of Ida recumbent in a sphinx-like pose in a very exotic boudoir. Photographs such as these are the material connection between the extravagances of the fin de siècle and the Decadent strain of early cinema in works such as Cabiria (written by Ida Rubenstein’s friend Gabriele D’Annunzio), Intolerance and (of course) Alla Nazimova’s Salomé.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Heidi Taillefer
Dorian Gray revisited
Beardsley’s Salomé
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
The art of Giulio Aristide Sartorio, 1860–1932

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