But sometimes it is so captivating.
Anna Livia Plurabelle is reading a book by Angela Thirkell. What Did it Mean. Very nice cover art.
So, next, of course: start scrolling through the other Vuillards in Google Images. So many paintings I’d never seen. One or two catch my eye, then I come to this. Madame Henraux in her Salon.
The first Mme. Henraux I find is in an article in a New York Times of 1914.
AMERICANS HURT IN EUROPE; Mme. Max Henraux and Gordon Armsby in Swiss Toboggan Accident.
The NY Times site says that the first paragraph is not available for this article. But, strangely enough, the Google search page reference to the article includes this:
[Mme.] Max Henraux, an American, who was Miss Beatrice Whiting, and Gordon Armsby of Burlingame, Kan., were injured, the former seriously, in a toboggan accident.
Could Vuillard’s sitter have been Mme. Max? 1914 seems too early. I google further. Holy smokes! The husband, M. Max Henraux, attended George Sand’s funeral! He must have been very old when he married Beatrice Whiting. Or perhaps it was Max Sr. at the funeral.
But, with a click, all becomes clear. It is George Sands’ funeral, not George Sand’s. It is the funeral of Mr. George Winthrop Sands, killed in an automobile accident near Poissy in 1908. But only M. Henraux attended. Where was Mme. Henraux? Off somewhere with Gordy Armsby?
(Another of the funeral guests was Prince Louis Napoléon Murat. There are more than one such in Wikipedia, but they are either too early or, in the case of the one who is still alive, too late, for George’s funeral. But Wikipedia-France has a little article on our Prince Murat. He was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In 1908, at George Sands’ funeral, he was 20 years old.)
A little more googling and I discover:
1) that George Sands’ step-father was a Vanderbilt
2) that someone at Harvard (in some sort of memorial remarks) – even though he was seen only briefly in Harvard Square – remembered him
as always smiling, always glad to see you, always ready
for any sort of fun. He left college after his freshman year,
but many of his classmates will remember his genial personality.
For a while after he left college he was a stock broker
but, to him, work was an evil and, in his case, not a necessary one. He was essentially a bon vivant. He liked the comforts of life and good things to eat and drink. Therefore, after marrying Tayo Newton in 1905, he lived abroad
3) that his marriage to Tayo Newton was an elopement against his family’s wishes and
4) that Tayo bore him a son year he died.
And Tayo? This is from a Herald Tribune of 1914:
Tayo Sands, the widow of Mr. G. Winthrop Sands. who
was a son of Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt, died yesterday at St. Louis de Poissy.
Mr. Sands was killed in an automobile accident in 1908, close to the residence of the Vanderbilts, near Poissy. He was returning from Deauville at high speed when the machine crashed into a tree. Mr. and Mrs. Sands were married in 1905. There were two children.
Deauville, 1908? Might he have brushed shoulders with Marcel?
(And how fast could a car go in 1908? My guess is 30 mph, but, no – a quick google and I find that in 1908 Mercedes Benz produced a 158 horse-power speedster capable of over 100 mph.)
But wait. There’s more. Forget Proust. Enter Henry James. On a website devoted to the Vanderbilts, I find that George Sands’ mother, Anne Harriman Sands Rutherford was the mistress of William K. Vanderbilt, and that he divorced his wife to marry her. New York State requiring proof of adultery for a divorce, Vanderbilt, to protect the respectable Anne, hired a notorious courtesan, Nellie Neustretter, to pose as his mistress, setting her up with an apartment in Paris and a villa at Deauville. This was in 1895 now.
James described the situation in a letter
... the husband doesn't care a straw for the cocotte and
makes a bargain with her that is wholly independent of
real intimacy. He makes her understand the facts of his
situation -- which is that he is in love with another woman,
and turned it into a story, “The Special Type.”
Well, between the line above and this one, I read the story. (In a real book: the Library of America’s Complete James Short Stories.) James is not at his best in “The Special Type”, at times almost parodying himself: “It stuck, as they say, in my crop. . .” says the narrator. But there are good bits and there’s a gratifying twist at the end.
But stop! That’s enough. The Mme. Henraux whose husband, Max, attended George Sands’ funeral could not have been Vuillard’s sitter. So, who was Vuillard’s Mme. Henraux?
I google Henraux Vuillard.
The first dozen hits all deal with the painting itself, but finally there is a Google Books reference to “Forged Genealogies -- Saint-John Perse's Conversations with Culture” by Carol Rigolot. No cut and paste from Google Books, unfortunately, but I have found Vuillard's Mme. Henraux.
She was Madame Adal Henraux, née Rosalía “Lilita” Abreu, “a beautiful Cuban woman with a magnetic personality, center of a brilliant circle of admirers that included artists, writers and political figures, Jean Giraudoux, Jacques Rivière and Léon-Paul Fargue.” She was the inspiration for Perse’s Poème à l’Etrangère, although until 1987, her identity was a mystery.
From a 1987 piece in the Houston Chronicle (by Michael Dobbs, originally published in the Washington Post):
More than 40 years of speculation on the identity
of the "foreign lady" by Perse enthusiasts - who include
French President Francois Mitterrand - has centered on
a Spanish woman of aristocratic birth. There are several apparent references in the poem to Spain, including a
phrase about the "green blood of the Castiles" beating in
the foreign lady's temples.
But, as the result of some astute transatlantic detective work, it now turns out that the speculation was
wrong. The foreign lady was a Cuban of great intelligence
and seductive charm, Rosalia Sanchez Abreu, known to
her friends as Lilita. The daughter of a wealthy Cuban landowner, Lilita had played the role of literary muse for
the tight little Parisian world of writers and poets - most
notably playwright Jean Giraudoux, who fell hopelessly
in love with her.
It was in Paris, probably in the '30s, that Lilita and
Perse first met. Perse, whose real name was Alexis Leger,
was bitterly opposed to the Vichy government's policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany and refused the post of ambassador to the United States. In October 1940, five
months after the fall of Paris, he fled his homeland for
what would become a 17-year exile in Washington. He
The following summer, Lilita, then 54, arrived in
America by way of Portugal and Cuba. She found a little
house in Georgetown on P Street. Perse rented a small
apartment a few blocks away.
So, painted in Paris by Vuillard in 1935 – six years later, she is on P Street in Washington.
But Saint-John Perse? The name rings a bell.
“Isn’t he the guy who wrote “The Little Prince?” I asked Anna Livia Plurabelle, wondering vaguely when it was that he left Washington to crash his plane during the Italian campaign.
Oh, well, one French saint is like another to me.
So – to Wikipedia. Perse (Alexis Leger) was born in 1887 in Guadeloupe to a family of wealthy plantation owners. In 1897, after the first native Guadeloupan to be elected president for some reason took a dislike towards the island’s colonists, the Leger family moved back to France. By 1904, Alexis, had made it into the "in" crowd: Stravinsky, Jammes, Claudel, Gide, Les Six, Valéry. Wikipedia refers to Jammes as “a dear friend.” Hmmm. An educated guess? It was Lilita who was a dear friend, while Jammes was something more. There is a biography of Perse available, if I become interested enough, which I am not – yet.
His works? His first book was a volume of short poems based on Robinson Crusoe. T. S. Eliot translated his “Anabase”. A picture of the book on Amazon jogs my memory. I remember looking through it more than once in bookstores back in the ‘50’. How could I pass up something with Eliot’s name on it? But I did. “Anabase” seemed too, too – what? Dense? Pretentious? Ah. Here is the complete poetry of Perse, translated by Auden -- $165 on Amazon. In that wonderful Princeton Bollingen series. Well, forget that. Maybe ABE Books. Okay, an ABE bookseller has it for $41.00 including shipping. But the translations are not just by Auden, but by lots of people, Auden, Eliot, Robert Fitzgerald, Wallace Fowlie, et. al. Well, even though it’s not all-Auden or all-Eliot, I order it. And also order Ms. Rigolot’s book, for another $9.00.
So – that little odyssey took me a few hours. Internetless, it would have taken me months, years perhaps, of research, in libraries and personal collections on both sides of the Atlantic, to have gotten from Vuillard’s Jeanne Lanvin on the cover of the Angela Thirkell book to Saint-John Perse and Lilita on P Street in Washington, with a detour to a Vanderbilt funeral and a scandal that titillated and inspired Henry James. Not bad.
So – I guess it’s a love/hate relationship – me and the internet. No. Just me. The internet doesn’t give a fuck.
Oh, wait. Who was Léon-Paul Fargue?