Category Archives: Society

Pierre de Régnier aka Tigre

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Milina, chica mia‘, tango milonga by Marcel Guit, published by the author (Talence, s.d.), cover illustrated by Tigre

The French writer and cartoonist Pierre de Régnier (1898-1943),  aka Tigre, had an artistic pedigree to be proud of. His maternal grandfather was the Cuban-born French poet José-Maria de Heredia, a respected member of the Académie française. His mother was Marie de Régnier, novelist and poet, nom de plume Gérard d’Houville. His legal father was the French aristocrat, Henri de Régnier, one of the most important symbolist poets. Pierre referred to him as The Immortal. And his godfather (and biological father) was the nonconformist poet and writer Pierre Louÿs.

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Marie de Régnier between her husband Henri de Régnier, on the left, and her lover Pierre Louÿs

His mother Marie was a non-conformist to say the least. She defied her aristocratic-bourgeois milieu by not wearing a corset and by having several lovers, male and female, during her marriage and by posing naked for her lover Pierre Louÿs.

Marie de Régnier, photograph by Pierre Louÿs

Pierre Louÿs was born in our beloved and beautiful Belgian city, Ghent. He wrote erotic texts set in antiquity, delicate obscene verses but also loads of secret and quite filthy ones, only to be found after his death. He is best known for his lesbian-themed poems Chansons de Bilitis (Songs of Bilitis). Louÿs sold these poems as translations from a Greek poetess, Bilitis, a contemporary of Sappho. In fact it was a hoax which his good friend and brother in mischief, Claude Debussy could very well appreciate. Debussy set three of Louÿs’s Chansons de Bilitis to music. The sexually obsessed Louÿs was also a keen amateur photographer…

Photographs by Pierre Louÿs. Eat this Kim Kardashian !

As a child, Pierre de Régnier was cherished by his unconventional mother, who lovingly called him Tigre (Tiger).

Tigre, the spitting image of his mother (in Femina, january 1905).

As a young man, just after World War I, he plunged head first into the Années Folles (the Roaring Twenties). A real party animal, clad in a tuxedo and white scarf, he tumbled every night head over heels into the Parisian nightlife.

Pierre de Régnier
Pierre de Régnier

In summer he left Paris for the casino’s and racecourses of Deauville or the French Riviera. Pierre de Régnier was a big spender and his parents had to help him out more than once. His life in the fast lane was alas a short one. His obstinacy for partying turned out nasty and self-destructive.

Deauville, written and illustrated by Pierre de Régnier (Tigre) in 1927. Dedicated to ‘Fred, the bartender of the Casino, who prevented me from dying of thirst’.

Pierre de Régnier left a diary in which he wrote about his empty life of a wastrel, consuming opium, cocaine, absinthe, gin or calvados. Every entry of this diary ends with the word: cuite (plastered) followed by  the hour of his arrival home, never before dawn of course. According to him everyone and everything had to be rigolo or funny; seriousness was an ugly trait. But deep down he was melancholic, and his poems are drenched in mal de vivre or spleen.

‘Je bois mes nuits mélancoliques
En vieux noceur désabusé
Mes aurores sont romantiques
Et mes regrets désespérés’

Pierre de Regnier wrote only about subjects he knew well: parties, endless nights, alcohol, bars and beautiful women, mondaine or demi-mondaine.The novels and poems he wrote are now mostly forgotten. Only Chroniques d’un Patachon, a collection of society columns about the Parisian nightlife in the thirties is still printed. The columns, short and ephemeral, like his pleasures, were written in his typical style: humorous, frivolous, ironic and tender. 

Henri de Régnier, The Immortal, by Tigre

Pierre de Régnier illustrated his columns himself with simple caricatures in black ink. He always signed his drawings Tigre. I’ll let you be the judge whether he successfully portrayed his subjects on the following sheet music covers.

Left, ‘Japona‘ foxtrot by Marcel Learsi,  illustrated by Tigre, published by Hachette (Paris, 1919) and danced by Odette Florelle (pictured above right) and by Armand Bernard (pictured below right).
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Left, ‘Hep!‘ Foxtrot by Fr. Withers. Published by R. Furnari (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Tigre. ‘Dedicated to the sagouins‘. Right: a cotton-top tamarin (a kind of sagouin).

Hep! was dedicated to the sagouins (tamarins in English) but Tigre clearly had no notions of their morphology. Tamarins are squirrel-sized New World monkeys. The morphology was not that important because the word sagouins is used here to indicate men with despicable behaviour like bastards or S.O.B.s.

Musidora as Irma Vep illustrated by Guy Arnoux

We end this post with an extract of Les Vampires, the famous silent crime serial by Louis Feuillade from 1915. If you fast-forward to 5:20 you can see Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire) perform in the ‘Howling Cat’ Club. Irma Vep was portrayed by the beautiful femme fatale Musidora, the first mistress of Pierre de Régnier. Now incidentally, she also had been the mistress of Pierre’s biological father, Pierre Louÿs. Well yes, these artistic circles surely had their share of complicated relations! And then, what to say about Pierre Louÿs probably being the son of his half brother…

Love Letters in War and Peace

Faded Old Love Letters‘, published by Keith Prowse & C° in 1922, illustrated by Holloway.

The Museum of Fine Arts MSK in Ghent recently showed the exhibition Love Letters in War and Peace. It followed the visual traces of ‘famous and lesser-known romances’ in different times: the prude Victorian society, the fin de siècle and the roaring Twenties, in war and in peace. This has inspired us to browse our collection of sheet music for songs about love letters.

Sheet music cover illustrated by Ixus (partition musicale illustrée)
Lettre à la première‘, composed by Gaston Maquis (ca 1895), illustrated by Ixus and brightly coloured ‘au pochoir’.

The ‘Letter to the First One’: what can be more difficult for a timid young man than to write a beautiful love letter to make his first object of desire swoon and reciprocate his tender feelings?

Le Camée‘, by Pierre Dupont, published by A. Fouquet in 1890, illustrated by Steinlen.

Théophile Steinlen borrows from mythology to illustrate the theme of postal romance. The two doves in the background and the young lady in negligee leave no doubt that the ever mischievous Eros is bringing – together with a precious gift – a love letter for a (probably) illicit love affair…

Discreetly exchanging sweet notes. Left the French version by Roger de Valerio (‘Les femmes mariées‘ by J. Szulz, published by Salabert in Paris, 1925). On the right, the Austrian version (‘Da fängt man wieder ein neues Verhältnis an‘ by Weiss & Schick, published by Mozarthaus in Wien, 1921) with a pernicious smile (unknown illustrator).

And yes, there are lots of songs about unfaithful lovers and spouses. These two covers make it clear how easy it is to contact ‘the other one’ with surreptitious letters. But does not the blatant naivety of the cheated husband in ‘Camouflage‘ add spice to the fun and thrill of swapping secret messages and furtive words at the theatre..?

Camouflage‘, music by Bodewalt Lampe, published by Salabert (Paris, 1917) — unknown illustrator

Sometimes the illustrator only has to draw Eros with an envelope  to make his point that love letters are the sweet accompaniment of every true courtship.

Eros as the deliverer of sweet messages. Left a drawing by de Valerio (‘Les Lettres d’Amour’ by José Padilla, published by Salabert in Paris, 1925). On the right a valiant postman-of-the-heart by Van Caulaert (‘Lettre à Toi‘ by Tutelier and Demaret, published by Office Musical, Bruxelles, 1923).

These love letters are clearly well protected from prying eyes by five wax seals (a custom used for official papers until well into the 20th century…).

brief cachet

The drawings by Clérice are more equivocal. Did his mysterious Belle-Epoque ladies receive good or bad news? Or are they brooding on a shrewd reply…

brieven amerikaans 2 copyIn general American sheet music share the drawing style of comics. In these four examples, writing or receiving a love letter brings visions of the loved one, be it in candle smoke or cloud, or in an  (ahem) arabesque.

billets d'amourThe French illustrator Donjean used the same technique: the smoke of burning love letters symbolises the man’s consuming pain at the end of his marriage.

brieven mannen copyPain is also very present in ‘Tout est Fini!‘. The worried man drawn by Jacques Wély seems inconsolable. The melancholia of the fin de siècle oozes from this song cover. The man on the right, by Pousthomis, seems better armed against the setback of receiving the farewell letter (or is he amusingly rereading his own prose?).

brieven hollandse copyBoth these Dutch covers by J. N. Buning are about love letters during the Great War.

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Left: ‘Adjöss mé den!‘ illustrated by Granath (Sylvain, Stockholm, 1929). On the right: ‘Det finns ingen jag älskar‘, illustrated by Bauer (Barding, Stockholm, 1934).

We close this post with two Swedish cartoonish covers of seamen who are known to have lady friends all around the world, sweethearts who all need emotional relief and postal attention…

The Dolly Sisters: Art Deco Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers illustrated by Boullaire
Gold Diggers‘, a foxtrot by Raoul Moretti, published by Salabert (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Boullaire

Gold Diggers is an appropriate title for the foxtrot 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.

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.

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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‘, foxtrot by Samuel Pokrass, published by Salabert in Paris (1927), illustrated by de Valerio
Charleston Dolly, illustrated by Jack Roberts
Charleston Dolly‘, by Howard Mc Knight. Published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by Jack Roberts
dolly sisters maurice chevalier
Three covers illustrated by Loris with Maurice Chevalier between Jenny and Rosie. ‘Steppin’ in Society‘ (1926), ‘Sweet Georgia Brown‘ (1926), and ‘Waitin’ For The Moon‘ (1925), all published by Francis-Day, Paris.

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 € .

Large bronze and ivory statuette of the Dolly Sisters, by Demetre Chiparus
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Goldscheider figure group, the Dolly Sisters, 1925


Boudoir dolls of the Dolly Sisters, courtesy of Frau Wulf,

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)