Robert de Montesquiou

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Robert de Montesquiou, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, Comte de Montesquiou-Fézensac (March 7, 1855, Paris – December 11, 1921, Menton), was a French aesthete, Symbolist poet, art collector and dandy.

He is reputed to have been the inspiration both for des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans' (1848-1907) À rebours (1884) and, most famously, for Baron de Charlus in Proust's (1871-1922) À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927).[1]

Biography[edit]

Robert de Montesquiou with his Persian cat

Robert de Montesquiou was a scion of the famous French Montesquiou-Fézensac Family. He was a distant nephew of Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, the model for Dumas' Musketeer. His paternal grandfather was Count Anatole de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1788-1878), Aide-de-camp to Napoleon and grand officer of the Légion d'honneur; his father was Anatole's third son, Thierry, who married Pauline Duroux, an orphan, in 1841. With his wife's dowry, Thierry bought a Charnizay manor, built a mansion in Paris, and was elected Vice-President of the Jockey Club. He was a successful stockbroker who left a substantial fortune. Robert was the last of Count Thierry's children, brothers Gontran and Aymery, and sister Élise.[1] His cousin, Élisabeth, comtesse Greffulhe (1860-1952), was one of Marcel Proust's (1871-1922) models for the duchesse de Guermantes.[2]

Montesquiou as caricatured by Sem aka Georges Goursat

He had social relationships and collaborations with many celebrities of the Fin de siècle period, including Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897), Edmond de Goncourt (1822–1896), Eleonora Duse (1858–1924), Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863-1938), Anna de Noailles (1876-1933), Marthe Bibesco (1886-1973), Luisa Casati (1881-1957), Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), and Maurice Barrès (1862-1923).[1]

He had a strong influence on Émile Gallé (1846-1904), a glass artist he collaborated with and commissioned major works from, and from whom he received hundreds of adulatory letters.

His portrait Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac was painted by his close friend, and model for many of his eccentric mannerisms, James Abbott McNeill Whistler in 1891-1892.

The French artist Antonio de La Gandara (1861-1917) produced several portraits of the Comte.

He wrote the verses found in the optional choral parts of Gabriel Fauré's Pavane.

One author provides the following verbal portrait of de Montesquiou: "Tall, black-haired, rouged, Kaiser-moustached, he cackled and screamed in weird attitudes, giggling in high soprano, hiding his little black teeth behind an exquisitely gloved hand—the poseur absolute. Montesquiou's homosexual tendencies were patently obvious, but he may in fact have lived a chaste life. He had no affairs with women, although in 1876 he reportedly once slept with the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, after which he vomited for twenty-four hours. (She remained a great friend.)

He had aristocratic women friends, but much preferred the company of bright and attractive young men. In 1885, he began a close long-term relationship with Gabriel Yturri (1868-1905), a handsome South American immigrant, from Tucuman, Argentina who became his secretary, companion, and lover. After Yturri died of diabetes, Henri Pinard replaced him as secretary in 1908 and eventually inherited Montesquiou's much reduced fortune.

'An Adventure'[edit]

Portrait of Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac. Arrangement in Black and Gold by James McNeill Whistler, 1891/92.

In his biography, Philippe Jullian proposes that Moberly and Jourdain's 'Adventure' in 1901 in the grounds of the Petit Trianon is explained by their stumbling into a rehearsal of one of Montesquiou's Tableaux Vivant, with his friends (one possibly transvestite) dressed in period costume. Dr Joan Evans, who owned the copyright to 'An Adventure,' accepted this solution and forbade any further editions.[citation needed]

Works[edit]

His poetry has been called untranslatable,[3] and was poorly received by critics at the time.[1]

Poetry[edit]

Note that there is original text related to this article at: French Wikisource

  • Les Chauves-Souris, Clairs obscurs (Richard, édition privée : 1892, édition commercialisée : 1893 ; illustrated by Madeleine Lemaire)
  • Le Chef des odeurs suaves, Floréal extrait (Richard, 1893)
  • Le Parcours du rêve au souvenir (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1895)
  • Les Hortensias bleus (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1896)
  • Les Perles rouges : 93 sonnets historiques (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1899)
  • Les Paons (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1901)
  • Prières de tous : Huit dizaines d'un chapelet rythmique (Maison du Livre, 1902)
  • Calendrier Robert de Montesquiou pour 1903
  • Calendrier Robert de Montesquiou 1904
  • Passiflora (L'Abbaye, 1907)
  • Les Paroles diaprées, cent dédicaces (Richard, 1910)
  • Les Paroles diaprées, nouvelle série de dédicaces (Richard, 1912)
  • Les Offrandes blessées : elégies guerrières (Sansot, 1915)
  • Nouvelles Offrandes blessées (Maison du Livre, 1915)
  • Offrande coloniale (1915)
  • Sabliers et lacrymatoires : elégies guerrières et humaines (Sansot, 1917)
  • Un moment du pleur éternel : offrandes innommées (Sansot, 1919)
  • Les Quarante bergères : Portraits satiriques..., avec a frontispiece de Aubrey Beardsley (Librairie de France, 1925)

Essays[edit]

  • Félicité : étude sur la poësie de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, suivie d'un essai de classification de ses motifs d'inspiration (Lemerre, 1894)
  • Roseaux pensants (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1897)
  • Apollon aux lanternes (Albert Lanier, 1898)
  • Autels privilégiés (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1898)
  • Alice et Aline, une peinture de Chassériau (Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1898)
  • Musée rétrospectif de la classe 90 ((parfumerie (matières premières, matériel, procédés et produits): a l'Exposition universelle internationale de 1900, a Paris), Belin Frères, 1900)
  • Alfred Stevens (1823–1906) (extrait de la Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1900)
  • Pays de aromates (Floury, 1900)
  • L'Inextricable graveur : Rodolphe Bresdin (Richard, 1904)
  • Professionnelles beautés (Juven, 1905)
  • Altesses sérénissimes (Juven, 1907)
  • Assemblée de notables (Juven, 1908)
  • Saints d'Israël (Maison du livre, 1910)
  • Brelan de dames : essai d'après trois femmes auteurs (Fontemoing et Cie, 1912)
  • Têtes d'expression (Emile-Paul Frères, 1912)
  • Paul Helleu, peintre et graveur (Floury, 1913)
  • Têtes Couronnées (Sansot, 1916)
  • Majeurs et mineurs (Sansot, 1917)
  • Diptyque de Flandre, Triptyque de France (Sansot, 1921)
  • Les Délices de Capharnaüm (Émile-Paul Frères, 1921)
  • Elus et Appelés (Émile-Paul Frères, 1921)
  • Le Mort remontant (Émile-Paul Frères, 1922)

Novels[edit]

  • La Petite mademoiselle (Albin-Michel, 1911)
  • La Trépidation (Emile-Paul Frères, 1922)

Biographies[edit]

  • Le Chancelier des fleurs : douze stations d'amitié (Maison du livre, 1907)
  • La Divine Comtesse : Étude d'après Madame de Castiglione (Virginia Oldoini) (Goupil, 1913)
  • L'Agonie de Paul Verlaine, 1890-1896 (M. Escoffier, 1923)

Theatre[edit]

  • Mikhaïl, Mystère en quatre scènes, en verses (d'après Tolstói) (1901)

Memoirs[edit]

  • Les Pas effacés, 3 vol. (Émile-Paul Frères, 1923; réed. Editions du Sandre, 3 vol)

Chronology[edit]

A chronology of his life can be found at the Northern Illinois University, Naperville.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Prince Of Aesthetes: Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921), Philippe Jullian, The Viking Press, 1968
  2. ^ Tadié, Jean-Yves, Marcel Proust, Viking, New York, 2000
  3. ^ Munhall, Edgar, Whistler and Montesquiou. The Butterfly and the Bat, New York, 1995
  4. ^ Udenap.org

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert de Montesquiou, mécene et dandy, Patrick Chaleyssin, Somogy, 1992
  • Robert de Montesquiou, Les Pas effacés, Suivi d'une étude de Thanh-Vân Ton-That, Editions du Sandre, Paris
  • Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1962

External links[edit]