Category Archives: History

Camille du Gast, the Valkyrie of Motorsports

Youyou‘ by Carlos de Mesquita published by R. Villeneuve (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by P. Sch.

The illustration for the piano music Youyou  is not the most captivating one. But its dedication “Au commandant du ‘Camille’ Madame Camille Du Gast” caught my attention.
A youyou is a small boat or a dinghy used to tender passengers between a ship and the shore. Here is a photograph of Mme Camille du Gast climbing from a youyou onto her motorboat, the Camille.

Cover picture from ‘La Vie au grand air: revue illustrée de tous les sports’ published by Pierre Lafitte, Paris, May 1905.

The adventurous Mme du Gast took part in the 1905 Algiers to Toulon race organised by the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Sadly, it would be the last time she boarded the Camille

Mme du Gast, wearing a southwester hat on board of the Camille.

To ensure the safety of the seven competing motorboats, each one was accompanied by a torpedo boat destroyer. Moreover, two cruisers followed the race. Sixteen hours after leaving Algiers the Camille arrived in second place at Port Mahon, a harbour on the Spanish island Minorca.

An artist’s impression of the crew of the Camille being saved by the Kléber.

In the second part of the race the participants tried to reach Toulon, but this ended in disaster. All competitors and their crew had to be saved from the fury of a storm-swept Mediterranean. The Camille was engulfed by the violent sea. In a perilous operation led by the cruiser Kléber, the crew of the Camille was pulled aboard. But not before an exhausted Mme du Gast fell into the sea and  was heroically rescued by a sailor. The Camille was left to the mercy of the waves.

Mme du Gast on board of the Kléber, the day after the shipwreck of the Camille. She must have found dry and presentable clothing in the captain’s trunk…

Two months later, Mme du Gast was declared the winner of the Algiers to Toulon race having come closest to finishing before sinking.

The 1905 Algier-Toulon race was not Mme du Gast’s first valiant exploit: she loved fencing, tobogganing, skiing, rifle and pistol shooting, ballooning, parachuting and horse training. She rode her first automobile around 1900 and participated in glamorous capital-to-capital car races, such as Paris-Berlin in 1901, Paris-Vienne in 1902 and Paris-Madrid in 1903.

Mme du Gast driving her first car, a Panhard-Levassor. Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand/Roger-Viollet

Mme du Gast’s sobriquet, the Valkyrie of motorsports, elegantly expressed her buxom figure, as seen on these photographs.

Camille du Gast posing in her leather duster and matching chauffeuse’s driver hat.

It is said that she had a very upright position when driving her motorised vehicles because of her corset. Looking at the picture with her at the rudder of her ‘canot‘, I find her silhouette mesmerizingly disturbing. I then imagine that she just donned a corset for official pictures, and immediately tucked the hindering girdle into a corner when going for action.

Mme du Gast dans son canot automobile à Juvisy, 25 septembre 1904; Wikipedia

Disappointingly, it seems that du Gast’s perfect hourglass shape is but the result of photographic retouching. Look at the telltale pencil corrections around her waist, belly and hips on these magnifications.

The composer of Youyou was Carlos de Mesquita, a Brazilian-born concert pianist and composer. In 1877, aged 13, he left Brazil to study piano and organ at the Conservatoire de Paris where he took lessons with Jules Massenet and César Franck. In the 1880s and 1890s he would introduce their work in Brazil, together with those of Delibes, Bizet, Gustave Charpentier and Saint-Saëns. Through his Concertos Populares, de Mesquita not only introduced a new repertoire in Brazil. He also tried to musically educate and appeal to a growing middle class. His noble intention was undoubtedly inspired by his colleague Gustave Charpentier, who founded in 1902 the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson for the musical schooling of working girls.

We found another Carlos de Mesquita’s sheet music in our Images Musicales collection. It is also dedicated to Camille du Gast and portrays her profile in a tangled Art nouveau floral design. A sign of respect, or was there also un peu d’amour..?

‘Un Peu d’Amour’ by Carlos de Mesquita and Charles Fuster, published by Henry Lemoine & Cie (Paris, sd) and illustrated by ED.

To prove her more artistic accomplishments, Mme du Gast who was a talented singer and piano player, gave charity recitals accompanied by Carlos de Mesquita. The newspaper La Presse describes one of her performances: “When Madame du Gast appeared, a flattering murmur ran through the audience. One was curious to hear Mme Du Gast, who yesterday was an intrepid automobile driver, who will be an aeronaut tomorrow, and who was revealed to us this evening as an excellent musician. Accompanied by M. Carlos de Mesquita, she has performed two pieces of this delicate composer. We celebrated both of them.”

Camille du Gast – publicity picture for a piano recital, presumed c. 1890s (source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Bain Collection).

The mondaine Camille du Gast got entangled in a scandal following the trial against her brother and father whom she had accused of embezzlement. Maître Barboux acting for her relatives, hit below the belt when he showed the court a picture of a painting of a naked lady. Barboux claimed that the lady, only clad in a mask, was Mme du Gast (as he had been told by Mme du Gast’s father and brother). Oh my god!

‘La Femme au Masque’ by Henri Gervex, 1885.

Mme du Gast’s libel action against Maître Barboux caused a sensation in Paris. Both the artist Henri Gervex and the girl who had stood model for the painting, Marie Renard, corroborated du Gast’s case. Still they were not given a hearing. Maître Barboux refused to apologise and moreover won the case on a legal technicality.

Post Card, mocking Mme du Gast and her supposed modelling for ‘La femme au masque’.

It is said that Madame du Gast who was present in the courtroom, had hidden a horsewhip in her parasol with the intention of administering correction to Maître Barboux. However, he prudently chose to leave the Palais de Justice by a private way, as he knew that Madame du Gast and her friends were in a very excited state after the decision of the Court.

But that is not the end of the story, as the prince de Sagan, a friend and admirer of Mme du Gast, followed the lawyer to his house with the firm determination to avenge the honour of Mme du Gast. He slapped Maître Barboux in the face calling him an insulter of women. An hour later, following impeccable manners, the prince sent his card to Barboux’s house. The Australian West Gippsland Gazette (september 1902) further reports: “Maître Barboux, as already noted, is no longer a young man, although very active, and he has, in any case, passed the fighting age, so he prefers the legal way of obtaining satisfaction.“ Another lawsuit followed. Although the court accepted that the prince had acted in good fate, he was condemned to pay a 500 francs fine.

Each sheet music tells its own story. But we also found another truth: one Youyou may conceal another…

‘Dans la Nuit tous le Chats sont Gris’ from the You-You opérette of Victor Alix, J. Ardot & J. Sirrah (Marcel Labé, Paris, 1922). Illustration by Choppy.

The Ephemeral Sculptures of Domenico Mastroianni

Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen, published by Album Lyrique Français (Marseille, s.d.) and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

This cover shows a rare and original form of illustration. It bears no title nor composer’s name. Both (‘Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen) are printed on the inside together with the piano notation. The sheet music was commissioned by the Robinson d’Anjou, the retail store of a large umbrella factory in Angers, France. We admit that it is a rather campy collection item. But the storyline behind this unusual design deserves to be explored.  As per usual, we cheerfully oblige.

We discovered that the cover was created by Domenico Mastroianni, an Italian sculptor living in Paris. He became famous for his sculpture éphémère also known as sculptobromure or sculptogravure. Thanks to an advertising postcard from the prolific Parisian publisher Armand Noyer, we can have a glimpse of Mastroianni’s amazing technique.

Publicity Postcard published by Armand Noyer (Paris, s.d.).

Firstly, and with astonishing speed and skill, Mastroianni modelled realistic reliefs on clay plates of about 50 cm x 70 cm. Then the plates where photographed, and these clichés were reproduced as postcards. As soon as a plate had been photographed, it was destroyed to prepare for the next scenes. Alas, not one of his plates survived.

The creation of the world‘ postcard published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

With this method Domenico Mastroianni was incredibly productive. His printed kitsch makings flooded the French and international postcard market. Often his creations illustrated the lives of the most famous historical, literary, religious and mythological characters. But he didn’t shrink from fabricating risqué scenes in Art Nouveau style, sometimes taking bad taste to the limit.

Vision Fantastique‘ published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Armand Noyer.

Just before the first World War Mastroianni returned to Italy where he continued his production of postcards. In 1935 our sculptor illustrated a propaganda postcard against the sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations. These sanctions targeted Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in that same year, when Mussolini was in search of a new Roman Empire.

Postcard illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni, 1935.

At that time a famous marching song accompanied Italy’s colonial adventure: Faccetta Nera (Little Black Face). The catching quickstep became very popular with the Italian armed Fascist militia, the Camicie Nere (Blackshirts) fighting in Ethiopia. The song describes an Ethiopian girl taken back to Rome by Italian troops after their invasion of Ethiopia. The young woman is paraded in front of Mussolini, herself also wearing the black shirt.

Although the song was written as a liberation song supporting the abolishment of slavery in Ethiopia (Mussolini’s explanation for his territorial expansion), it was without doubt a sexist and racist song and still is. In Italy, singing it today invokes controversy and its name is sometimes used as the N-word, to insult black women or girls. Even now on Youtube, there are Italian fascist aficionado’s who advocate their love for the song. It was beautifully illustrated by Gino Gonni though.

Faccetta nera‘ by  Mario Ruccione and Renato Micheli published by La Canzona di Roma (Roma, 1935) and illustrated by Gino Gonni.

Mussolini despised the jovial tone of the text which called for a swift and painless integration of a young Ethiopian woman in Italian fascist society: “you will be Roman, your flag will be the Italian one”.

Chromo illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1936). Aurelio Bertiglia made a set of war propaganda postcards from the Italian perspective depicting an extremely bloody war as a children’s game.

And Mussolini abhorred even more the implicit reference to interracial sex. However, to forbid the song would have been too drastic in view of its immense popularity among the colonial legionnaires.

Left a booklet cover: ‘Faccetta nera. Soldati italiani alla conquista dell’Impero’ (1954). Right, a picture of Italian soldiers showing a magazine to Ethiopian women.

Instead, publisher Bixio came up with a more appropriate cover design, boasting suitable flags and the emblematic Roman fasces.

Faccetta nera‘ by Renato Mario and Ruccione Micheli published by Bixio (Milano, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

If the song could not completely be banished, at least it could be conveniently redacted. The initial text of Faccetta nera made a reference to the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1896, a year when the Italian forces suffered great losses and Italy had to accept Ethiopian independence. This passage in the lyrics was censured because Mussolini didn’t want any reminders of defeat.

On the other hand, the reference to that humiliating year is very explicit on the cover of the song Macallè (published somewhat later than Faccetta nera). The central inscription ‘1896’ is carved on the door lintel. The explanation is that in 1935 on November 8th the Italian forces captured Mek’ele (Macallè): the previous defeat was now revenged.

Macallè’ by Dino Olivieri & Capitano Azzuro published by Edizioni Leonardi (Milano, 1935) and illustrated by Bacchetta.

With these fascist songs we’re a bit off topic now. So back to Domenico Mastroianni with a last lingering question: was he related to the great Marcello? Yes indeed! He was Marcello’s uncle’s uncle. Finally an excuse to slip Marcello Mastroianni in our blog.

Big Tich and Little Tich

tichborne-galop
‘The Tichborne Galop’ by M. C. Barter, published by John Blockley, London (ca 1870)

This cover from our sheet music collection bears a portrait of the Claimant to the Tichborne title and fortune. The story about the sensational reappearance of the long-lost Roger Tichborne captivated all of England’s Victorian public. The tale is still shrouded in mystery, at least as to how people are craving to be fooled, again and again…

The aristocratic Roger Tichborne grew up in Paris and spoke English with a pronounced French accent. As a young man he was travelling in South-America when he learned that his father had succeeded to a baronetcy. Roger would be next in line to inherit the tile. Shortly after receiving this news in 1854, Roger sailed to Jamaica but never arrived. Four days after his departure from Rio de Janeiro, the wreckage of his ship was found without a sign of its passengers: Roger Tichborne was lost at sea.

Roger’s mother clung to the rumour that some of the passengers on the wrecked ship had been picked up by a passing vessel on its way to Australia. In 1862, when her husband died, she desperately searched for news from her son. Her advertisement in Australian newspapers described Roger as being rather tall with light brown hair, blue eyes and a delicate constitution. It also mentioned that Roger was the heir to the extensive estate of the deceased Sir James Tichborne. Lo and behold, in 1865 an Australian announced that he had lived under the pseudonym of Thomas Castro, and now claimed that he in fact was Roger Tichborne. He started corresponding with his English ‘mother’.

rogertichborne
Portrait of the real heir to the baronetcy Roger Tichborne (ca 1854).

Roger Tichborne’s last picture taken in South America showed a thin, somewhat effeminate man. So Thomas Castro wrote to his wannabe mother that he had gained some weight. When he set sail – the voyage paid by Mrs Tichborne of course – he weighed 100 kg and by his arrival in England he had put on another 30 kg.

The Tichborne Claimant gaining weight.

He then did an odd thing. First of all he went to Wapping in East London where he inquired after the family of his Australian friend, Arthur Orton. After he learned that the Orton family had left the area he met Mrs Tichborne in Paris. Although by that time his weight had reached 150 kg, the excitable mother immediately clasped him to her breast, as if she instinctively had recognised her son. Roger’s Parisian tutor was more percipient: he declared the Claimant an impostor and disclosed his ploy as a fraud. Nonetheless, the gullible Lady Tichborne settled him a yearly income and accompanied him to England.

The rest of the family was very sceptical and objected to the Claimant because of the following reasons:
– his letters were illiterate whereas Roger was well educated;
– he didn’t speak nor understand French;
– he had a Cockney accent;
– he didn’t recognise his family;
– he didn’t have Roger’s tattoos;
– his picture was recognised in Australia as that of Arthur Orton, a bankrupt butcher.

When his ‘mother’ died in 1868 the prodigal son was deprived of his money. In 1871 he claimed his heritage in a tribunal. But he lost his case (not his weight though because by then he tipped the scales at just over 200 kg) and was accused of perjury. A criminal trial followed in 1873 upon which the Claimant’s fraudulent world fell apart: the jury found him guilty and he was exposed as Arthur Orton. He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

staffordshire-arthur-orton
Victorians could add to their clutter with a Staffordshire figurine of the Tichborne Claimant. The bird and shotgun indicate his claim, as a country gentleman, to the title and land of Roger Tichborne.

The two trials were a huge sensation giving rise to extensive media coverage. Bizarrely the Tichborne Claimant became a working-class hero, a defier of the establishment. His supporters, the Tichbornites, saw him as a victim of the aristocratic elite in cahoots with the government, the legal profession and the queen herself. A poor, humble man like the Claimant was denied the right to belong to the la-di-da upper class. His cause became a large popular movement and a Tichbornite candidate even won a seat in Parliament.

After his release from prison the Claimant, who had already revelled in public attention during his trials, toured with circuses and appeared in music halls. A real music-hall artist, Harry Relph, who was 1,37 m tall, adopted the stage name Little Tich in contrast to the bulky appearance of the Claimant. Little Tich became a successful British comedian, specialising in energetic dances, comedy numbers and songs.

little-tich
‘Big Boot Dance’ by Joseph Fredericks, published by L. Wilson & C° in London.

The comedian’s talent  sparklingly comes to life with his popular routine act in ‘Little Tich et ses Big Boots’, short film made by the Frenchman Clément-Maurice for the 1900 World Fair in Paris. Don’t try this at home.