Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cleo De Merode

I am still researching the ladies that sat for Giovanni Boldini, Cleo De Merode is the latest subject I have been looking into.  Cleo's brand of beauty seems to transcend time, she looks as if she would have fitted quite happily into any decade of the Twentieth Century, even the silk taupe blouse she is wearing for the Boldini painting has a touch of modernity about it.  She has amazing eyes, what does she know that we don't?  Perhaps she knew she was a lady ahead of her time...

Cléopatra Diane de Mérode was born in Paris, on 27th September 1875, the daughter of the Austrian landscape painter, Karl von Merode (1853-1909). The painter belonged to a famous Belgian noble family 'de Mérode'. Nicknamed Cléo, at age eight she was sent to study dance and made her professional debut at age eleven. She grew into a beautiful young woman, noted for her tiny waist which was accentuated by tightlacing that was popular with women at the time.

Cléo de Mérode became renowned for her glamour even more than for her dancing skills and her image began appearing on such things as postcards and playing cards. A particular new hairdo she choose to wear became the talk of Parisian women and was quickly adopted as a popular style for all. Her fame was such that Alexandre Falguière sculpted The Dancer in her image, which today can be seen in the Musée d'Orsay. In 1895, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did her portrait.

In 1896, King Léopold II attended the ballet and saw Mérode dance. It is said that the 61-year-old Belgian King became enamoured with the 22-year-old ballet star and gossip started that she was his latest mistress. Because the King had had two children with a woman reputed to be a prostitute, Cléo de Mérode's reputation suffered and she had to live with it for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, Cléo de Mérode became an international star, performing across Europe and in the United States. At the peak of her popularity, she chose to dance at the Folies Bergère, taking the risk to do something other elites of the ballet had never done before. Her performance gained her a whole new following.

Giovanni Boldini

Manuel Benedito

Georges Jules Victor Clarin

Very popular in her ancestral homeland of Austria as well as in Germany, her character appeared in the 1926 German motion picture, Frauen der Leidenschaft, played by Fern Andra. In Vienna her beauty caught the attention of painter Gustav Klimt whose primary focus was on female sexuality. Their story is retold in a film released in 2006 titled Klimt. In it, the American actor John Malkovich stars as Gustav Klimt and the British actress Saffron Burrows as Cléo de Mérode ("Lea de Castro").

Sculpture of Cleo by Alexandre Falguiere

Cleo de Merode au salon, Carlos Vasquez Obeda

Mérode continued to dance until her early fifties when she retired to the seaside resort of Biarritz in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département of France. In 1955 she published her autobiography Le Ballet de ma vie.
Cléo de Mérode died in 1966 and was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Cleo's Grave, complete with sculpture

Cleo de Merode, aged 94 in 1964, Cecil Beaton

Text Source for Cleo de Merode via Wikipedia


  1. What a lovely woman, and so timeless!

  2. Beautiful...her eyes are relay so much emotion and like "Mona Lisa" many of the prints have me wondering what is behind her whimsical smile.

  3. Amazing! And doesn't that first shot look totally contemporary?! Love these stories about strong, beautiful, interesting women!!

  4. What a magnificent muse! And to be so beautiful at 94!! One can only dream of that!! I'm so envious of the life she led and the stories she could tell, those lovely eyes that saw so much!!

  5. This post is great touching for me...

    What an miracle yeas have this wonderful inspirational woman!!!
    And what a story,fascinated and bewitched me:-)*

    Thank you for share this story in your post!
    Wish you restful,beautiful spring week ahead,


  6. She does have a very timeless look about her, doesn't she. These could be contemporary photos! Very beautiful - thanks for sharing. Thanks Dash!


  7. What an amazing beauty - timeless! Thank you for your super article. Rgds, Carol x

  8. My dear, it's so enlightening to come to see your blog. I've been doing a research for an article of the interaction between art and theatre and Tolouse Lautrec is one of the artists that I will be using as examples. FYI: A new book on Ellen Terry is out which you might be interested.

  9. Your sense of glamour is absolutely over the top. I do love the paintings and vintage fashion.
    have a wonderful say

  10. Absolutely timeless. Another fabulous post! xx

  11. You have done it again, thank you.

  12. I just wanted to tell you how much I like your blog it is simply fabulous, I cant wait to sit and read the whole seems that we share similar interests I have some wonderful photos of Cleo she has been an inspiration of mine for sometime
    Cheers from Australia Stella

  13. Dash
    I just wanted to thank you for becoming a follower on my blog !! so kind of you as I consider yours my...well a standard.. that I can only hope to live up to one day...maybe.
    I too love to read it is a great passion mostly autobiography's now days about people you write about, I too lived in France for 3 years,speak French.. and I think it is there that my love of beautiful things started.
    Thank you so much again for being so inspiring

  14. She was truly stunning, no wonder she was the model for so many artists.
    Thank you for all of the research that you do for these posts. I really enjoy reading them.

  15. What an interesting post about such beautiful women.



  16. I am wondering may I use your image of cleos grave in an article I am doing on pere lachaise ?

    my email is

  17. I would like to read the article in Vogue magazine ,1964. Is there a story that accompaies the photo of Cleo de Merode, age 94?

  18. The Cecil Beaton portrait states Cléo Mérode was 94 at the time of the sitting, but that's incorrect. She was born in 1875, so that would put her age at 89.

    1. Yes, I have noticed this one too.


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