Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scandalous Therese, Part Deux

So roundabouts 1794, the lovely and vivacious Therese found herself in the scurrrrry prison of Les Carmes, a bloody and depressing hellhole on the outskirts of Paris. Oddly enough, in this horrific setting Therese met her future BFF, a woman in her mid-30's named Rose de Beauharnais--the future Empress Josephine, the most amazingly fabulous of all French queens or mistresses, in my opinion. She was kind and loving, sensitive and gentle, the perfect compliment to Therese's fiery personality. Josephine had been tossed in prison a few months back, as she was the (separated) wife of a guillotined aristocrat, Alexandre de Beauharnais, one of the biggest womanizing douchebags the French Revolution unhappily produced. She was a full 10 years older than Therese when they met, and would shortly be destined to reluctantly give her hand in marriage to a shaggy-haired soldier from backwater Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Bonaparte in 1797, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. As much as I love Bonaparte, I'm fairly certain this portrait is more wishful thinking that what the subject actually looked like-Bonaparte had a much rounder face, less harsh lines and angles, in my opinion. But he definitely has the shaggy hair here! And his multitude of scarfy belts and swords (how did those pants stay up with all those swords and knives and scarves hanging off it , is what I'd like to know...)

But anyway. So Therese and Josephine were two utterly opposite personalities that immediately clicked, and theirs would become a friendship that withstood all manner of storms--failed marriages, deaths, enormous distance, even a direct order from Napoleon to Josephine (once Napoleon became a hoity-toity emperor) to cease all communication with Therese because her behavior was just too scandalous for his prim-and-proper court! (Josephine continued writing to and visiting with Therese until her death. Bonaparte's edicts be damned.)

A lovely portrait of Josephine in 1796, done by Andrea Appiani. Love her frizzy 80's hair and her pretty blue scarf-belt. Flowers were always a really, really big thing for Josephine--there's even a type of rose named for her!

An even more flattering portrait of Josephine in 1796. Love her pretty curls and snazzy little arm bracelet! So neoclassical. This was part of a dual pair of portraits made for her marriage with 'the little Corsican', I believe.

A later illustration of Therese and Josephine walking arm-in-arm through the Tuileries gardens--as I have done with my best friend Corri a few times! :) Therese is on the left, Josephine on the right. I love how Therese is sporting a pair of glasses, a huge blonde wig, a little handbag (the forerunner to our modern-day purses, girls), greek lace-up sandals and a dress split halfway up her thigh, while Josephine is much more demure but equally pretty in her pink dress and matching hat. Loves it!

Amazingly, in the middle of August 1794, something extraordinary happened--Tallien found his courage! Spurred to action by a letter in which the fiery Therese called him a shameful coward for his despicable lack of action, he conspired with a few shady politicians and overthrew Robespierre! And his timing could not have been more perfect--the death warrant for miss Theresa Cabarrus was SITTING ON ROBESPIERRE'S DESK. One little signature from the frigid little creampuff and off would have gone Therese's head! But, at the very last possible second, Therese was saved. Robespierre's head then shortly went rolling off the guillotine, and thousands of prisoners were freed upon Tallien's orders. The Terror was over, and Therese was set free. She immediately had Josephine freed as well, who went home gratefully to her traumatized children.

This portrait of Robespierre is pretty dang good, in my opinion. It's amazing how much death and destruction this one single man was responsible for. During the Terror, he was all-powerful, but by the end he was booed and spat on during this bumpy cart-ride to the guillotine. However, the one thing I really can't forgive him for is--that horrid, horrid wig. He was quite possibly the last man in Paris to sport that hideous,
outdated concoction on his head.

So afterwards, well-aware of the enormous debt she owed him, Therese reluctantly married Tallien, now christened 'hero of 9 Thermidor' (the 9th of Thermidor was the day on the French Republican calendar when Robespierre was overthrown. Don't even ask about that calendar because it is beyond confusing and I have NO IDEA how they ever learned it.) Because of her well-known influence over Tallien, and due to the hundreds of lives she saved, Therese herself became known as 'Our Lady of Thermidor'. She was famous in her own right now, the world's first modern-day international celebrity! And so nooooow the Miss Therese had finally arrived. Girlfriend was beyond popular. Finally! She had exactly what she had been craving her entire life--a chance to be famous and adored. When she accompanied Tallien to the operas and the theatre, they received standing ovations. She was stopped in the street, gawked at by onlookers, and her every move was noted in the gossipy Parisian newspapers. And, like a notorious, modern-day starlet, she knew exactly what to do to keep herself firmly in the public eye and her name on everyone's lips--she carried on scandalous liaisons with the biggest bankers and politicians of the day, bought herself a brand-new, expensively decorated house, and became the most famous trendsetter of her day. The new up-and-coming social scene met at HER house, mimicked HER fashion, and gossiped about HER nonstop. Even if it was only for a small moment in time, 'Madame Tallien', as she became known, was infamously famous, the world over!

This lovely portrait of Therese caused quite the scandal when Isabey painted it around 1798. She's wearing a light, sliky muslin dress with one breast proudly displayed (subtle, Therese, subtle). She's also wearing a blonde wig--girlfriend became famous for her wigs. She had pink, red, blonde, white wigs--all colors, all styles. Supposedly they were made from the hair of guillotine victims, blech! It makes her look very pale and totally different from her normal, raven-haired self.

I LOVE this portrait of Therese!! Fabulous in every way! The always fantastic photo agency of the Reunion des Musees Nationaux in France has this on their website. It shows Therese in 1797, her dark tresses wound into a loose, gauzy turban (these were really popular. The back of the turban usually looks like a cone on the lady's head!) and her dress sleeve with that popular gold-button detail you can see in so many portraits of the time period. She also holds her rich gold-colored shawl, that ever-present denoter of wealth. She looks like she's caught in the moment, thinking about something perhaps?

More on the fashion escapades of Therese Tallien next time! Thanks for reading!