Monday, 26 December 2016

Johanna Schopenhauer, and why she matters

My friend Sabine blogged about the project, to have a plaque attached to one of the buildings at the Weimar Esplanade, to remember Johanna Schopenhauer, and the donations being collected for it.

One might now ask: "Who was that woman? And why does she matter?" Or "Schopenhauer? You must mean Arthur. Because, who's Johanna?"

Johanna Schopenhauer was for many years not much more than a name attached to a couple of handsome portraits of a woman with strong features and rather dull writing to me. Though it changed after Sabine sent me a copy of Carola Sterns biography about Johanna.
And there she came alive. Not just as a mother of grumpy Arthur. But as a woman inspired by her surroundings, by the writers and thinkers of her time. As a woman who inspires thought and reflection, compassion and a duty to stand for her own convictions.
In a time period, where women were either ostracised or ridiculed for their thoughts and works, she's one more who's spirit survived the centuries, and speaks to us today.

Johanna Schopenhauer and her daughter Adele, by Carola Bardua
Copyright: https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johanna_Schopenhauer



Johanna was widely travelled, she recounts her journeys (we have to thank her for quite some of the early romantic views on Scotland and England) spoke several languages, had the education and polish of an accomplished woman. 
Johanna also experienced what it is to be a woman in the late 18th century, how legal matters were complicated for her, because as a woman she faced restrictions what we esteem as 'backwards and daft' today. We understand that the Declaration of human rights was the beginning of modernity - yet it excluded women. She's a Bourgeoise, but her salon is frequented not just by her equals, but also by members more elevated circles. Her salon was not a formal affair, but an 'Open door'. If you were witty, and had something to say, you would be welcome. If you weren't, you were welcome non the less, you might just need a bit of starting help to find out, in what direction you want to spread your wings.

To me and many others Johanna Schopenhauer isn't just a decorative figure, but as much part of our beloved Weimar as her contemporaries Charlotte von Stein, the interesting person of Christiane von Goethe and many other, much better known ladies. 
That is why I was thrilled to read in Sabines blog, that the Circle of Friends around the Goethe National museum plans to get a commemorative plaque for Johanna.

I would like to share the text of the Freundeskreis Goethe Nationalmuseum e.V. Weimar, as translated by Sabine Schierhoff

Call for donations to build a commemorative plaque for Johanna Schopenhauer in the Schillerstrasse
 Probably the most famous cup of tea in Weimar was served on the 20th October 1806 from the saloniere Johanna Schopenhauer to Goethe's newly wed wife Christiane. With the immortal words "I guess if Goethe has given her his good name, we can kindly offer her a cup of tea" she tore down the wall of rejection, which the Weimar society had bestowed on Goethe's wife to ostracize her.
For this generous and witty gesture alone Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838) truly deserves the respect of Goethes family and friends and all of us til today. But she has plenty more merits, which have helped her to become an essential part of the "Classic Weimar". After the two days of marauding and looting past to the lost battle in Jena on the 14th October 1806, the sophisticated, eloquent and charming generous woman was there to keep the deeply shocked Weimar scociety grounded and gradually give them back hope and strenght. She succeeded to do so with her vespertine tee salons, which were open to everyone once introduced to the circle, without invitation. This informal practice of social gathering for both sexes was new to Weimar and quickly well received.
With the help of the Stadtarchiv Weimar (city's archive) the exact place of this salon could be identified. From 1806 to 1813 Johanna Schopenhauer stayed at the house of court counselor Johanna Caroline Amalie Ludecus, whose pseudonym as writer was Amalie Berg, at the Esplanade, later Schillerstrasse No.10, only two houses away on the right from the Schillerhouse. Unfortunately the original building on the grounds of the former town's wall was replaced in 1896/97 by the Gewerbehaus, which today is seat of the District Craft Trades Association.
So far there's no place of commemoration of the once so highly estimated and famous Johanna Schopenhauer in Weimar; her grave is in Jena, the Schopenhauerstrasse dedicated to her son Arthur. It's time to pay tribute to this grand dame of Weimar with a commemrative plaque. The text would read as follows:
"Hier stand das Haus, in dem die Schriftstellerin Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838) von 1806 bis 1813 ihren berühmten Salon führte"
(translation: "Here's the place, where the famous writer Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838) held her salon (circle) from 1806 to 1813")
The price for the plaque is approx 1300 Euro. If you'd like to support the project of the Freundeskreis Goethe-Nationalmuseum e.V. for long due commemorative plaque, we'd kindly ask you to donate to:
Freundeskreis Goethe Nationalmuseum e.V. 
Sparkasse Mittelthüringen Erfurt
DE34 8205 1000 0365 0003 37 
BIC/SWIFT HELADEF1WEM
keyword: Schopenhauer

The Germab original Text: 
Spendenaufruf zu einer Gedenktafel für Johanna Schopenhauer in der Schillerstraße 
Die wohl berühmteste Tasse Tee Weimars wurde am 20.Oktober 1806 von der Saloniere Johanna Schopenhauer an Goethes frisch angetraute Gattin Christiane gereicht. Mit den unsterblichen Worten "ich dencke wenn Göthe ihr seinen Namen giebt können wir ihr wohl eine Tasse Thee geben", durchbrach sie die Mauer des Schweigens, mit der die Weimarer Gesellschaft die Lebensgefährtin Goethes bis dahin geächtet hatte.
Allein für diese ebenso große wie geistreich formulierte Geste verdient Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838) bis heute Hochachtung der Freunde Goethes und seiner Familie. Doch hatte die Schopenhauer durchaus noch andere Verdienste, die sie zu einer unentbehrlichen Persönlichkeit im "Klassischen Weimar" haben werden lassen. Nach den zweitägigen Plünderungen im Gefolge der verlorenen Schlacht bei Jena am 14.Oktober 1806 war die weitgereist-weltläufige, hochgebildet-redegewandte und charmant-großzügige Frau genau die Richtige, um der schockgelähmten Weimarer Gesellschaft zunächst Halt und nach und nach wieder neuen Mut zu geben. Dies gelang ihr durch Einrichtung abendlicher Teegesellschaften, in die sich jeder, sobald er in den geselligen Kreis einmal eingeführt war, ohne weitere Anmeldung einfinden konnte. Diese offene Form der Salongeselligkeit für beide Geschlechter war neu in Weimar und fand großen Anklang.
Mit Hilfe des Stadtarchivs Weimar konnte nun der genaue Ort des ersten und bedeutenden Salons der Schopenhauer ermittelt werden. Von 1806 bis 1813 wohnte sie im Haus der Hofrätin Johanna Caroline Amalie Ludecus, die sich als Schriftstellerin Amalie Berg nannte, in der Esplanade, später Schillerstraße Nummer 10, also nur zwei Häuser weiter rechts neben dem Schillerhaus. Allerdings ist das auf der alten Stadtmauer errichtete Gebäude 1896/97 durch das sogenannte Gewerbehaus ersetzt worden, in dem heute die Kreishandwerkschaft ihren Sitz hat.
Bisher gibt es in Weimar keinen Ort des Erinnerns an die einst so hoch geschätzte und weit über die Grenzen der Stadt hinaus bekannte Johanna Schopenhauer; ihre Grabstätte befindet sich in Jena, die Schopenhauerstraße meint ihren Sohn Arthur. Es ist an der Zeit, diese große Dame Weimars mit einer eigenen Gedenktafel zu ehren. Der Tafeltext könnte wie folgt lauten:
"Hier stand das Haus, in dem die Schriftstellerin Johann Schopenhauer (1766-1838) von 1806 bis 1813 ihren berühmten Salon führte"
Der Preis für eine Tafel mit diesem Text liegt bei ca. 1300 Euro. Wenn Sie dieses von zahlreichen Verehrerinnen und Verehrern in und außerhalb Weimars schon lange geforderten Vorhaben des Freundeskreises des Goethe-Nationalmuseums e.V. Weimar unterstützen möchten, bitten wir Sie herzlich um eine Spende auf folgendes Konto:
Freundeskreis Goethe Nationalmuseum e.V. 
Sparkasse Mittelthüringen Erfurt
DE34 8205 1000 0365 0003 37 
BIC/SWIFT HELADEF1WEM
Stichwort: Schopenhauer

Clothing in Motion

Medea had an outing in September, when we went dancing on Wildegg Castle. A member of the public made a wee movie. Mind, we are all happy amateur dancers and the footwork is hardly coordinated as in a professional ensemble. It should give the impression of young people meeting and dancing towards the end of the summer, in preparation of the balls and dances a Winter in town would offer.

I do love the way the clothing becomes alive, and how it guides the movement of the dancers :-)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The single sheets

We all have seen these sad prints, where on the left side of the paper we can make out that it was once upon a time part of a bound volume. Sometimes that edge get cut away, either by readers who used their magazines much the same way we do today. Or later on by print dealers, who's financial interest purely lies with the print.
The print of the left has no markings, while the one on the right shows where it was sewn together with the other pages of its journal

But we ought not to forget, that already in the time period, print dealers sold individual prints, what were never bound, and I'm tickled pink to have found another such reference in the Journal des dames (early January 1804):


Recently an edition of four pages of flowers, printed in colour on good paper and retouched by hand is aw available at Vilquin, the print dealer located at Grand Cour du Palais du Tribunat. These flowers, united in bouquet by twelve to fifteen on every page, are especially designed for young ladies who busy themselves with the drawing of ornamentation, embroider or paint on fabric.
A text of forty to fifty lines comes with every colour print.
The price of the full edition is 24fr. Single pages, without text, cost you 6fr.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Medea - The Versatile LWD - Roman Style

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman can never be too fine wearing white mousseline.

The LittleWhiteMuslinDress of the period is one of my favourite period wardrobe staples, as it can be upgraded and downplayed with a few well placed accessories. It is an upper class or Sunday garment, as practical work is rather out of the question, though with train or without, I love the simple elegant flowing lines the LWMD creates.

My current favourite is last years Roman Style Dress, or Medea, as I nicknamed her after the first wear. She was created originally as a ball dress, but with the objective to be worn to elegant promenades as well. 
Last year in April, my friends C & F organised a most beautiful Bal de Souscription (Read Sabines report for more details), and amidst sewing for musicians and one other dancer, I thought that I actually also would love a new dress, preferably without train, even if trained dresses were still very much seen on the dancefloor. 
© The British Museum, Acc. No 1856,0712.609


A bit earlier I fell in love with this painting, respectively her dress, the hem. And her veil. And the flowers. In short: the whole ensemble.
© RMNGP
Anonyme portrait of a lady, presumably Caroline Murat.
Collection of the Château de Malmaison, and she also served as the poster girl for the Musée Marmottans Exhibition "Napoleons Sisters, Three Italian Destinies"


The only problems were the sleeves, as lovely as they were, I planned to wear my dress to a ball, where dancing would start at 4 in the afternoon until midnight. By the experience of our monthly and bi-weekly rehearsals it wouldn't be a walk in the park, but a sportive event, and I would need my full sleeve chemise as underwear to prevent stains on the dress.

That's when this painting, what went on sale at Sotheby's in the months before the ball came to my help: closed sleeves, and another hint that I will need a red shawl in the future.

Henri-Pierre Danloux
PORTRAIT OF JEAN-LOUIS GUSTAVE D' HAUTEFORT, AND HIS SISTER, MARIE-THÉRÈSE-THAÏS D'HAUTEFORT



































My dress itself is unlined, made from sheer Swiss cotton (very sheer). The bodice is as lowly cut as
the  one of the beauty from Malmaison, and the hem features a more time saving approach to the zigzags, by simple chain stiching. It's front closing with drawstrings, and generally a wonderful no-fuss dress, apart of the fact that one needs a petticoat underneath, a chemise on it's own will not do.

It worked a threat at the ball, and when I did my hair (I bought flowers for my head and ended up handing them out to ladies with greater need than I) I turned to my friends and asked 'Do I look like a crazy tragic actress personifying Medea in all her madness? Yes? Excellent.' That's where the dress received its name.

© Jeanette Klok-Heller






























And did it work for dancing? Oh yes. It was light. It was flowing, it made me feel like a goddess, even when I started to become very very footsore

© Eliane Caramanna
© Jeannette Klok-Heller


And now we come to the versatility of it: 

Promenade prior to the ball? Add a shawl/Schall/Châle and you are good to go.
© Sabine Gaus / Empirepicknick.ch

A Summery afternoon in a landscape garden? Capote with veil and shawl in coquelicot, beige gloves and some corals makes if elegant yet not overdone for an outing out of town

© Fabrice Robardey
As I've said, this dress has become one of my well loved favourite dresses. It takes so little to turn a whole outfit upside down: 

Again, very casual during a visit to Bagni di Lucca. (And finally one can see the zigzags!) with a little jacket and a hat by the wonderful Charo Palacios who runs her own atelier Angelica Absenta
Picture © Antonia Mandic
But only a couple of hours later we sat in a beautiful little opera house in Barga, and casual wouldn't do for me. Off came the jacket and the hat, drape the shawl over one shoulder and enjoy the show (and thank the gods that you did a proper updo before you put your hat on...)
© Keane / Barganews.com

© Coltrane Koh at Coleshot.co.uk
© Coltrane Koh at Coleshot.co.uk
I am on the first range of boxes, on the right :-)

You see, I am an advocate of the Little White Dress, and even more so if the Little White Muslin Dress for earlier period. Cotton muslin is easy on the budget. It washes well (pre-wash it before you cut your dress!), can be embellished with some white embroidery (if you feel up to it) and depending on the accessories results in so many beautiful and different outfits.

There is close to no occasion where you will be out of place (Attending court wouldn't do. But I speak of more Bourgeois occasions), where you won't feel pretty and fresh and elegant. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Trouvaille: Mlle Chevigny



There is woeful little information, though had a rather long career (especially if compared with the tragic end of young Mlle Chameroy), but maybe that is the reason why she was less celebrated later in life than Mlle Chameroy was in death? 

Contemporary reviews are very favourable though, as much as the poem what opens this post is flattering, though apart from two costume sketches I couldn't find any other picture of the celebrated dancer turned actress. The poem refers of her return, apparently she was absent from the stage due to illness, and returned two years later, of a slightly fuller figure, what removed her from the dancers limelight towards acting.

Costume sketches of the ballet the Le Retour d'Ulysse, (Return of Ulysses) in 1807 (You can read a review in English here). The last figure on the first picture is Eurydée, the wet nurse of Penelope who recognises Ulysses, the role performed by Mlle Chevigny, for what she earned much praise.
On the right, Mlle Chevigny in the role of Eurydée

Just because Berthélémy's drawings are so nice, a second one. Not picturing Mlle Chevigny
Details & source: 

Titre :  
[Le retour d'Ulysse : trois pl. de costumes / par Jean-Simon Berthélémy] 
Auteur :  
Berthélémy, Jean-Simon (1743-1811). Dessinateur 
Date d'édition :  
1807 
Identifiant :  
Source :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Bibliothèque-musée de l'opéra, D216-2 (4-6) 
Relation :  
Le retour d'Ulysse : ballet héroïque en trois actes / chorégraphie et argument de Louis Milon. - Paris : Théâtre de l'Opéra-Montansier, 27-02-1807 
Relation : 
Provenance :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France 

And of L'enfant prodigue, (the prodigal son) the second figure from the left

The second from the left, in yellow tunic



























Titre :  
[L'enfant prodigue : trois pl. de costumes / par François-Guillaume Ménageot] 
Auteur :  
Ménageot, François-Guillaume (1744-1816). Dessinateur 
Date d'édition :  
1812 
Identifiant :  
Source :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Bibliothèque-musée de l'opéra, D216-3 (10-12) 
Relation :  
L'enfant prodigue : ballet-pantomime en trois actes / décors de Jean-Baptiste Isabey. - Paris : Théâtre de l'Opéra-Montansier, 28-04-1812 
Relation : 
Provenance :  
Bibliothèque nationale de France 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Trouvaille: Mlle Chameroy

And again in the Journal what would be end of December 1803.
A very beautiful portrait of Mlle Chamroy is on sale at Mad. Masse, the papetière (a papeterie is a boutique, where paper and writing tools are sold), at Rue Helvéticus, near Louvois.

Sounds intriguing. A reference to a Mlle Chameroy, but who was she, and who would have known her? As it happens - everyone would. It's as if today you'd say "a photo of Amy Winhouse". Even if you'd never saw a performance, you'd know that she was famous, and died tragically young just a couple of years ago.
It's the same thing here. Mlle Marie-Adrienne Chameroy was another young star of the ballet scene, but died tragically young in childbirth; Laure Junot mentioned her death in her memoirs. (my comments are in brackets. For the complete memoirs follow the link. Laure Junot's memoirs need to be taken Cum Grano though...)


Apropos of the pirouetttes of Mademoiselle Chameroy, an event connected with her had recently made much noise. The poor girl pirouetted no longer in this world. She was dead, had died in childbed... attended and greatly lamented by Vestris. (We just read about Mme Vestris...) The Curé (priest) of Saint Roch deemed the profession of the deceased and the manner of her death (in childbirth, while still being a "Miss") doubly scandalous, and in all charity refused her admission within the pale of the church.



Though can we take Mme Junot's word for gospel? The auctionhouse Invaluable, who sold this miniature of Mlle Chameroy in May 2016 thinks so: 
After her death in childbirth at 23, her funeral, which was to take place at the Church of Saint Roch, attracted a large crowd of her fans. When the doors of the church remained closed, the rumor spread that the priests there had refused to perform the service because of Mlle. Chameroy's profession. A near-riot ensued, only calmed by the soothing words of the actor Joseph Albouy Dazincourt of the Comedie Francaise. The funeral procession then continued to the church of St. Thomas, where the funeral took place. 


Marie-Adrienne Chameroy (1779-1802) made her debut as a dancer at the Paris Opera in 1796 as Terpsichore in the ballet Psyche. Considered one of the most beautiful dancers in the corps, she attracted many admirers for her grace and vivacity. 


Monday, 17 October 2016

Trouvaille: Little Helpers to gather sleeves gracefully




Already for a couple of days jewellers are making diamond (possibly paste?) rings, what ressemble earrings: these rings are made to be threaded through a practical eyelet in the sleeve of a pretty woman, to gather and lift that sleeve with grace:
It's a famous painter who thought this fashion up.

Sadly LeMésangère doesn't share with us, what painter. But as Mme Vigée Lebrun painted Mme Vestris with such a sleeve decoration, I think it was already wider spread in 1803, and made its way out from the pages of a journal where it has already been publicised earlier to the canvas of expensive and famous painters.

Source https://nmwa.org/works/portrait-woman


Description of the nmwa webpage: The identity of this woman is far from certain although some scholars believe that she might be Anne Catherine Augier Vestris (1777–1809), a French dancer who went by the stage name Aimée. Anne Catherine was the wife of dancer Auguste Vestris, who came from a famous family of performers. 

An 11, Tunique de Grande Parure 



Sunday, 16 October 2016

Trouvaille: Dancing is soo complicated and tiring these days...

That's January 16, 1804
Dancing today is so complicated, so intricate and fatiguing, that in an assembly twenty good dancers meet four good gentlemen dancers: after five or six years of training, a dancer is exhausted; the ladies, who are more graceful by making less of an effort, or rather to whom this kind of exercise is more favorable, the ladies, as I say, are dancing well, dancing much and are dancing for a long time.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Trouvaille: The Velletri Pallas, the Blockbuster in December 1803

Just imagine, how wonderful it would be if you are meeting in 'Good Society'*, and the topic of choice isn't the weather, but art. And even better, ancient Roman art!


One cannot present oneself in good society* these days without saying something about the Pallas of Velletri, and without reciting some passages from Valérie, the latest fashionable novel.

We've already read a little bit about Valérie in a recent post, but what is so special about the Pallas Velletris?  

I am sure that you have seen pictures of the Velletri Athena, even without knowing her name: 

C Wikimedia Commons
A print from 1810, at the V&A 

© The V&A  

She was discovered near Velletri in Lazio in 1797, and entered the collection of the Musée Napoléon** in December 1803. This translates that this wonder if the antique world made her appearance just days before this issue of the Journal des Dames was published. If you have ever stood in front of this imposing goddess (or a copy of it), who appears serene, beautiful, knowing, offering shelter, you understand how she became the talk of society. She was the embodiment of this new era, of a period when the spirit of consular Rome was considered to be the guiding light.


Monsieur being spellbound by a copy of her a couple of years back. The plaster copy's home is in the collection of the University of Bern, Switzerland.
© A. Reeves

More modern information can be found on the Louvre's website: 

* the 'Bonne Société was defined by Helmina de Chezy, a contemporary observer and society correspondent as members of former court circles, of good society, but actively excluding Nouveaux Riches who obtained their fortuned by speculation during the revolution. 

** The Musée Napoléon is known today as The Louvre. But back in 1803 the collection was renamed Musée Napoléon. By the way - did you know you can also search the Louvres Collection database online? 






Thursday, 13 October 2016

Trouvaille: a little less in the head

It's no secret that I along with other people love good zingers (Dowager duchess, I'm looking at you...), and for anyone with such a taste, the Journal des Dames is a treasure trove, usually signed off by Centyeux. (Nom du plume of the editor)
Sadly not everything translate well into English, but I'll love such snippets, and I'd like to share:

That reads 27 December 1803, as usual courtesy of the BNF

An elegant fop's hair is blockingly cut at the front, and rather short/shaved on the sides: on top of the head the hair is cut high and teased into the shape of fishbones; on the sides there is some sort of empty bit named Luck's Way, at the forehead a bushel of hair falls down to the eyes, another bunch falls in curls like a tail. 
That is the description of current styles given by Mr Crépon (creper = teasing hair, Crepon = hair rat), the wig maker. This analysis leads to the conclusion that there is much to say about the outside of a fop's head: there would be much less to analyse on the inside. 
O cerebrum caput etc....

P.S.: I'm by no means well equipped using use hair dressers terms, but to me it reads as some sort of 1980ies mullet hairdo ;-)


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Trouvaille du Jour: Dance practice

Courtesy: The British Museum

"Why do people attend balls if they don't know the dances?"
Ever caught yourself asking this question during an event? Or ever been asked this question? 
Fear not, you are not alone, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

We're still in December 1803 ;-) yes, this edition proved to be a mine of interesting bits and bobs: 

Today's dances are so difficult that they ceased to be entertainment, and became work. Once upon a time, if one asked a lady to dance, she would accept, whether she learned that dance or not.
Though nowadays at least two years of lessons are required, before one ventures into a contredanse. Of twenty ladies asked to dance, nine-teen refuse by saying "I am just beginning, and by no means advanced enough".
In some circles of society, where the hostess isn't yet advanced enough, four sprightly dancers are asked to dinner, and as many good female dancers, who will throughout the evening delight the assembly: This way one will be entertained as well.... By watching others dancing.





Trouvaille: If everything becomes too much...

It's a well known phenomenon today, that we search to distract and occupy ourselves. We exceed our ebnergy, run from event to happening, and when we are tired, many try to numb the tiredness with more excitement (Binge watching your favourite series is not that relaxing, because it still bombards your senses with sound and picture...)

Anyone who thinks "That was different, in Ye Goode Olde Times", I think we are not that different.
Again, Journal des Dames, 30 Frimaire An12 (December 22, 1803)

The Trouvaille is spread over two pages (three if we count the title), please excuse the frankensteining
Source as usual: BNF

There wasn't an instant these the past eight days, in what I didn't try to evade myself; I've felt all the fatigue attached to the need of amusement. I've seen (attended) balls, dinners, spectacles, without gaining a single moment of joy.... The solitude during these parties is bare, ungiving. 
Natures solitude though always helps us to gain something for our soul; the one of mere objects prevents us to be with ourselves and gives us nothing in return.
Ext. de Valérie*

*Valérie relates in my opinion to a pre-publication of Madame de Krudeners's book, what was published only a few months later. I wonder what kind of favour or sense of business moved our Monsieur Le Mésangères to public this excerpt? Doing a favour to Chateaubriand? 







Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Mademoiselle Duchesnois and Phèdre

Most of us have heard the name either in relation to Napoléon Bonapartes mistress, or as a concurrence of Mlle Georges, a fellow actress (and another mistress of NB)

I've stumbled over Mlle Cathérine-Josephine Duchesnois in the Journal des Dames (on BNF). She was a celebrated actress, and these two snippets from the same issue illustrate how present she must have been in those days. A real celebrity, somebody who took the scene by surprise, and who was there to stay.

The date of 30 Frimaire An 12 reads as 22 December 1803, a bit over a year after having charmed and bewitched Paris as Phèdre in August 1802, Racine's tragedy what everyone would have heard or seen for the past generations.


The days of comedy have become the tragic days at the Théâtre Français since Molé (Molière) has passed on: Only Tragedy is fashionable these days. One goes and sees Voltaire, one loves Racine (Author of Phèdre), one runs crazily to Corneille; while the actors influence these movements far more than the pieces they perform. It is a good day when Talma performs; even better with Mlle Volnais and Mlle Georges show up; but the most excellent days are those when Mlle Duchesnois gives an appearance.


A painting what is for sale is is currently on show an engravers studio, close to the Café de Foi at Palais du Tribunat, a portrait what greatly resembles Mlle Duchesnois. 

Sadly the journal doesn't give us a precise description of the portrait. Though given her recent success as Phèdre, and the trademark diadem the role brought along, it might have been any portrait with a lady wearing a diadème. 

© http://www.tombes-sepultures.com/crbst_650.html
© BNF
http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb395147504
Pictured above is Mlle Duchesnois, once in an engraving by a non-mentioned painter on the source site, once in her title role Phèdre, courtesy of the BNF

I have read Phèdre as a teenager, and considered it to be a 'Greek Tragedy, as bad as Oedipus'. I guess I was simply to young to understand or appreciate the piece. In later years I rediscovered the multi layered personality of Phèdre. The woman of duty, of the woman who loves, who despises herself for this love. The woman who falls prey to madness. And the woman who is willing to atone the wrong she felt she did by the sacrifice of her own life. 
And what an extraordinary actress it would have needed, to present Phèdre in her failings and in her dignity. Mlle Duchesnois was not as beautiful as Mlle Georges, she was described as rather plain, but with a spontaneous delivery, a warm and sensual voice.

Apparently Mlle Cathérine-Joséphine was just such an actress. Aged 25, she convinced the Paris audience of the fate of the tragic queen in 1802, and had immediately a very steady fan base, like Joséphine Bonaparte who orchestrated a second chancer for her in Paris, after a disastrous debut in Versailles; or her colleague, the very esteemed Talma, a legend on the boards, who made her his constant acting partner, crowned her on stage, thus firing up a jealous conflict between her and Mlle Georges. (Both Mlle Duchesnois and Mlle Georges became Members of the Comédie Française in 1804. On the same date, because anything else would have fired up the conflict even more)

Baron Gerard's portrait of Mlle Duchesne
http://museosphere.paris.fr/oeuvres/la-scene-finale-de-rodogune-au-theatre-francais-1810

While we have no possibility to see her perform the role together with Talma, I would like to direct a little attention to this woman. She was an artist, not just merely 'one of Bonapartes mistresses', and apparently an inspired actress, who had her apprentissage not as such, but as a couturière!  
And while you might have read Phèdre in school and considered it dull to no end (as I did), I would love to inspire you to give the small tome another try, it may make you appreciate the craftsmanship what went into personifying such a role.

For my German readers, there is a special treat: Reclams edition of 'Phädra' was translated in 1804 by Friedrich Schiller. (Yes. That Schiller) And while it render Racines verses, Schiller gives us the Spirit of the Classic period in the clear language of beauty, as much treat to read as the original.

Links for further reading:
Wikipedia about Mlle Duchesnois (her real name was Rufin, not Duchesnois, by the way)  
And a bit longer biography, published in relation of her tomb on Cimetière Père Lachaise, the cemetery where Mlle Duchesnois found her last resting place (in French): http://www.tombes-sepultures.com/crbst_650.html