Charlotte Wiehe: From Mimodrama to Graphical Muse of the Belle Epoque

‘La Main’ by Henri Berény, published by Albert Ahn (Berlin, 1903) and illustrated by Chéret.

The woman on this cover is holding a key while threatened by scary hands around her. She is the Danish dancer, actress and singer Charlotte Wiehe (1865-1947). Charlotte was first married to the celebrated Danish silent actor, Wilhelm Wiehe, whose name she kept after their divorce. She made her first successes in comedy and light opera in Copenhagen. According to the press of that time “she was a singer of ability and a graceful dancer”. Charlotte Wiehe remarried with the Hungarian violinist and composer Henri Berény.

‘Den Sande Kaerlighed’ by François Perpignan, published by Wilhelm Hansen (Copenhagen, 1904) and illustrated by Valdemar Andersen.

Charlotte Wiehe-Berény in ‘Den Lilla Drottningen’, 1905. Source: Wikipedia.

Together they moved to Paris and started an international career. Around 1900 Charlotte took up a new line of performance: mimodramas (pantomime acts with dance and musical accompaniment) written and composed by her husband Berény. Two of his mimodramas (L’Homme aux Poupées and La Main) were successful on the Parisian stages and were later adapted for the cinematograph in 1909 by Le Film d’Art.

L’Homme aux Poupées by Jean Veber. Source: Wikipedia.

The mimodrama L’Homme aux Poupées is based upon a book by Jean-Louis Renaud, beautifully illustrated by Jean Veber. It tells the strange obsession of a man in love with his dolls. The eccentric has only eyes for his dolls and not a blink for this woman, an actress he met one evening at the opera. Since nothing helps to draw his attention, she undresses in front of him. But even that has not the desired effect. Vindictive, she tears the man’s dolls to pieces under his bewildered eyes. Then, seized with remorse, the actress turns herself into an automaton, a mechanical doll. What a great opportunity for Charlotte to show her miming skills.

Charlotte Wiehe in L’Homme aux Poupées, illustrated by Cheret. From L’Illustration, December 1900.

Charlotte Wiehe and the hand of Max Dearly in the film La Main by Film d’Art. Source: Jeux de mains, by Ariane Martinez (2008)

The mimodrama La Main is the story of a burglar who gets into a dancer’s dressing room to steal her jewels. But as the young woman returns into her room, the thief hides behind a curtain. And after removing her costume and standing in her negligee before a mirror she sees the presence of his hand in the folds of her curtain. Ooh la la, quite alarming…

Charlotte Wiehe  having seen the hand of the burglar in the mimodrama ‘La Main’ . The Sphere, November 1900. Source: eBay.

We spare you the rocambolesque end of the plot in which the key —emphatically shown on the sheet music cover— plays an important role. Far more interesting is that Charlotte Wiehe was the muse of Jules Chéret, the master of the belle-époque poster art.

‘You know that this exquisite actress was nicknamed Chérette. Indeed, graceful and mischievous, she seems to be the dream model of the famous ‘maitre de l’affiche’ “.  In Journal Amusant (26 January 1901).

They really have a point.

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Posters by Chéret with Charlotte Wiehe as his model. Source: eBay.

Charlotte Wiehe was not only pictured by Chéret, but by a lot of contemporary artists. You can see some examples by Adrien Barrère, Knut Hansen, De Losques and Capiello.

Charlotte Wiehe. Left: by Barrère. Right: by Knut Hansen. Source eBay.

Charlotte Wiehe by de Losques, in Le Rire – January 1905.

Charlotte Wiehe by Capiello (from Le Théâtre de Capiello, April 1904).

45 rpm Vinyl: Those Were The Days

Mariniers-Kapel der Koninklijke Marine‘, cover of the 45rpm record published by Philips

In appreciating things of beauty and loveliness we try not to be insular, meaning that we also have an eye for other things cultural than sheet music. Last week during clean-up we found a small pile of 45rpm records. We breathed a little sigh of nostalgia —those were the days…

We thought it would be a pleasant variation in our Images Musicales Stories to publish some of these covers. Mind, the cover designs are not masterworks but nonetheless charming, and in that way very similar to sheet music.

Marlborough Symphony Orchestra, works of Brahms, Dvorak, Paganini and Strauss’. 45rpm record published by Camden.

 

Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite‘, cover of the 45rpm record published by Camden.

 

Michelin (Luister naar deze grammofoonplaat)‘, 33rpm publicity record in small 45rpm format. (This is not a classic plastic record in a sleeve, but a square of thick paper on which the groove is engraved in a thin transparent film).

 

Grote Planta Wedstrijd – Prijzenfestival‘, Dutch or Flemish publicity record for Planta margarine and promotional contest. Of the 3.000 prizes to win, the first one is a furnished apartment (!). Click to view the back cover of the sleeve.

Next are two children fairy tale books. The record with the spoken story and accompanying music, is engraved on the cover of the booklet (the black tracks, on a thin plastic transparent film). Inside is the written story to read and to look at the illustrations. Of course, the booklet is entirely perforated in the center for the axis of the turntable. Does it bring back sentimental memories..?

Roodkapje‘ (Little Red Riding Hood), published by Mulder & Zoon, Amsterdam, s.d.

 

Roodkapje‘, illustration by Truus Vinger on one of the inside pages.

 

Klein Duimpje‘ (Tom Thumb), fairy tale record-booklet published by Mulder en Zoon, Amsterdam, s.d.

 

Inside illustration of the above record-booklet ‘Klein duimpje’, by Truus Vinger.


The following illustrations are of Sint-Niklaas en Zwarte Piet (Saint-Nicolas and Black Pete). They are funny folkloristic characters who visit children’s homes in the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium to bring presents and treats on the evening of December 5. Or better they were, because Black Pete is now seen as a blatantly racist stereotype. Black Pete is Saint-Nicolas’ loyal servant and he is usually portrayed in black face with  a frizzy wig, golden earrings and painted large red lips. This gave rise to a divisive conflict: does a tradition that is experienced by some as offensive needs to be adapted or maintained?

Zie ginds komt de stoomboot en andere St.Nicolaas liedjes‘, Record-booklet with children song published by Mulder & Zoon, Amsterdam, s.d. Cover design by Leendert van Groen.

 

Illustration on one of the inside pages in the above record-booklet ‘Zie ginds komt de stoomboot…’ by Nans van Leeuwen.

 

Cover for booklet 'O, kom er eens kijken, en andere St.Nicolaas liedjes'
O, kom er eens kijken, en andere St.Nicolaas liedjes‘ record-booklet with children songs published by Mulder & Zoon (Amsterdam, s.d.). Cover design by Leendert van Groen.

 

Inside illustration for the above record-booklet by Leendert van Groen.


Now sing along with us and Mary Hopkin, to bring back those days my friends…

Ugène

‘Ugène pass’ moi l’Odorigène’ by Yahne Lambray, published and illustrated by Joë Bridge (Paris, 1920).

Joë Bridge created the imaginary character Ugène, a Parisian Joe Sixpack from the Twenties. Joë Bridge was a French lyricist, cartoonist and sportsman. He was famous for his posters and press cartoons. Here is his beautiful portrait.

Joë Bridge in 1927, photographed by Agence ROL (source: Gallica-BnF)

He had his own advertising workshop and was one of the first to create a complete product marketing campaign by combining a brand mascot (Ugène), a rhyming slogan (‘Ugène pass’ moi l’Odorigène’), cartoons and a song. The product he promoted was a kind of pomander: the odorigène. This pocket-sized nasal inhaler was meant to provide a continuous olfactory shield against the bad odours of the city. It was a small flask containing perfumed oil and a wick to diffuse the fragrance by capillary action.

The odorigène. Source: ebay.fr

Joë Bridge’s advertising poster demonstrates how the odorigène could be very useful in a bad-smelling metro.

And —thanks to its antiseptic vapours— the odorigène also helped to prevent influenza and contagious diseases.

In L’Ouest-Éclair 26 October 1920.

The odorigène, what an invention! We’ll stop now and smell the roses*.

(*) “Stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché, but new research suggests it’s sound advice for finding satisfaction in life. A forthcoming study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences suggests that appreciating the meaningful things and people in our lives may play an even larger role in our overall happiness than previously thought.

'Ceci et ça' about Illustrated Sheet Music