All posts by ImagesMusicales

The Dolly Sisters: Art Deco gold diggers

Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire
Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire

Gold Diggers is an appropriate title for the fox trot danced by the Dolly Sisters. They surely knew something about gold digging, not as in ‘gold mining in Klondike’ but as in sweet-talking sugar daddies. The Dolly Sisters were hot during the jazz age and everybody wanted to be seen with them, even royalty.

dollies10
The Dolly Sisters in their flamboyant costumes

Jenny and Rosie Deutsch had immigrated from their native Hungary to America where they began performing on stage at an early age. They were identical twins and they accentuated this by synchronising their movements and by wearing identical costumes. The Dolly Sisters soon became famous both in Europe and in the States. They had a penchant for plumes, jewellery, money, and older men but above all for gambling.

dollies gypsy
The Dolly Sisters in gypsy costume.

The best known of their sugar daddies was Harry Selfridge, who founded the first ‘shopping is fun’ department store in Oxford Street, London: Selfridges. In his later life he became so besotted by the Dolly Sisters that he catered for their every wish. He bought them diamonds, flew over their favourite food and sat next to them at the gambling table, his wallet wide open. This would eventually hasten the downfall of Harry Selfridge: he lost his entire fortune and his beloved department store.

The Dolly Sisters’ exuberant partying lifestyle came abruptly to an end when Jenny was injured in a car accident. She never recovered from it and sadly hanged herself in 1941. Rosie retired from public life and also tried to take her own live. She passed away in 1977.

The Dolly Sisters were wildly famous during their heyday, but it was not an enduring fame. Now this is interesting. We still know Greta Garbo, Maurice Chevalier or Charlie Chaplin, but not the Dolly Sisters. Maybe long-lasting fame has to do with persistence and talent. The Dolly Sisters’ career span was rather short. As for their talent we can get a glimpse of that in a recently published YouTube fragment. They are performing in a pantomime of a traditional children’s tale Babes in the Woods, although not in their usual identical costumes.

In an iconographic way the Dolly Sisters simply breathed Art Deco. Their ornate costumes and lavish acts are the quintessential image of the Roaring Twenties as can be seen in some of our Dolly Sisters sheet music covers.

Dolly Sisters, illustrated by de Valerio
Dolly Sisters, illustrated by de Valerio
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
dolly sisters maurice chevalier
Three covers illustrated by Loris with Maurice Chevalier between Jenny and Rosie.

Furthermore statuettes, porcelain figurines and boudoir dolls accompanied the Dolly Sisters’ rage and success. In 2012 a bronze and ivory statuette of the twins by Chiparus sold for almost 350.000 € .

chiparus-dolly-sisters
Large bronze and ivory statuette of the Dolly Sisters, by Demetre Chiparus
figurine dolly sisters
Goldscheider figure group, the Dolly Sisters, 1925

 

DSC07815
Boudoir dolls of the Dolly Sisters, courtesy of Frau Wulf, http://frauwulf.blogspot.be

The twins also inspired László Moholy-Nagy for his modernist photomontage Olly & Dolly Sisters. Moholy-Nagy transforms their normally cheerful disposition by a vast emptiness using light, monochromatic colours and simple geometric shapes.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy olly & dolly sisters
Olly & Dolly Sisters by László Moholy-Nagy, circa 1925, Gelatin silver print (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Terribly drunk

Pochard-11501_1
Un Pochard à la Cambronne, illustrated by Faria

The drawing of a drunken man by Faria is more realistic than the complete oeuvre of Emile Zola. The poor devil is so soaked that he can’t control his bowel movements any more. And to make matters worse, his pants have seen better days. Faria took the title of the monologue quite literally: un pochard means a drunk, a dipsomaniac. A la Cambronne can be translated as ‘in the manner of Cambronne’. Pierre Cambronne was a French general who allegedly replied ‘Merde !’ when he had to surrender in Waterloo. So the expression ‘à la Cambronne’ became a euphemism for merde.

Drunk as shit, I suppose…

Talking about chatterboxes

Chatterbox Polka, sheet music cover illustrated by Brandard
‘Chatterbox Polka’, by Hermann Koenig, illustrated by Brandard.

The British used to sing about almost everything. Even about chatterboxes. The two girls on the cover above, apparently liked their bit of gossip. But so did the French ladies on the cover for the Polka des Commères (commère being the French word for gossip).

Polka des Commères, sheet music cover illustrated by Laporte
‘Polka des Commères’ by Gabriel Allier published by Philippo, illustrated by Laporte.

The French have another beautiful word for a chatterbox: une pipelette.

Bonjour Madame Pipelet, cover illustrated by Pousthomis
A nice looking pipelette, illustrated by Pousthomis
Mme. Pipelet millionaire, petit format sheet music cover
A not so nice looking pipelette, illustrated by… (Can someone identify this illustrator?)

The French word pipelette (feminine) or pipelet (masculine) comes from a character in the novel Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris) by Eugène Sue (1804-1857). Madame Pipelet is the wife of a caretaker. She talks too much and has an unhealthy interest in other peoples private lives. The word pipelet(te) is now used to indicate a caretaker or concierge and by extension a chatterbox or a gossip.

Eugène Sue himself introduces Madame Anastasie Pipelet as follows:
‘When Rodolphe ventured into this den, Monsieur Pipelet, the porter, momentarily absent, was represented by Madame Pipelet: seated near an iron stove which was in the middle of the room, she appeared to be listening to the boiling of the pot. The French Hogarth, Henri Monnier, has so admirably stereotyped la portière that we will content ourselves by begging the reader, if he wishes to figure to himself Madame Pipelet, to recall to his mind the most wrinkled, the most pimpled, the most niggardly, the most ragged, the most quarrelsome, the most venomous of portières immortalized by this eminent artist.’

Thankfully the Bibliothèque Nationale satisfies our curiosity and shows us Monnier’s portière for what she is: ready to quarrel!

Le roman chez la portière, illustration by Lhéritier
Le roman chez la portière, sketch by Henry Monnier and Gabriel : portrait of Jules Brasseur / by Lhéritier