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Colette (2012)

by Dominica Vaughan

Medium: Oils on Canvas

Frame: Framed

Size: 45 cm x 60.5 cm


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Colette (born 28 January 1873 - 3 August 1954) was the surname of the French novelist and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She is best known for her novel Gigi, the basis for the film and Lerner and Loewe stage production of the same title. Colette was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Her first books, the Claudine series, were published under her husband's pen name "Willy". Claudine still has the power to charm; in Belle Époque France it was considered shocking, much to Willy's satisfaction and profit. Colette went to work in the music halls of Paris with the support of Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy with whom Colette became romantically involved. In 1907, the two women performed together in a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge. Their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot which the police were called in to suppress. As a result of this scandal, further performances of Rêve d'Égypte were banned, and Colette and de Morny were no longer able to live together openly, though their relationship continued for five years. She was also involved in a heterosexual relationship during this time, with the Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzio. According to one writer, Colette "never gave Missy as much love" and took "advantage of her and more or less appropriating Rozven, a Brittany villa, from her after they split up." Another affair during this period was with the automobile-empire scion Auguste Heriot. In 1914, during World War I, Colette was asked to write a ballet for the Paris Opera which she outlined under the title Divertissements pour Ma Fille. She chose Maurice Ravel to write the music, he reimagined the work as an opera, to which Colette agreed. Ravel received the libretto to L'enfant et les sortilèges in 1918, and it was first performed on 21 March 1925. After 1935, her legal name was simply Sidonie Goudeket. Maurice Goudeket (her third husband) published a book about his wife, Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius. An English translation was published in 1957, by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, New York. After World War I, Colette's writing career blossomed following the publication of Chéri (1920).Chéri tells a story of the end of a six-year affair between an aging retired courtesan, Léa, and a pampered young man, Chéri. Turning stereotypes upside-down, it is Chéri who wears silk pyjamas and Léa's pearls, and who is the object of gaze. In the end, Léa demonstrates all the survival skills which Colette associates with femininity. The story continued in La Fin de Chéri (1926), which contrasts Léa's strength and Chéri's fragility and decline. Considered nowadays to be Colette's masterpiece, Chéri was originally met with controversy because of its setting - the demimonde of the Parisian courtesans-and its portrayal of the hedonistic Chéri. After Chéri, Colette entered the world of Modernism, with emphasis on modernist poetry and painting revolving around Jean Cocteau, who was later her neighbour in Jardins du Palais-Royal. Their relationship and life is vividly depicted in their books. By 1927, she was frequently acclaimed as France's greatest woman writer. "It has no plot, and yet tells of three lives all that should be known", wrote Janet Flanner of Sido on its publication in 1930. "Once again, and at greater length than usual, she has been hailed for her genius, humanities and perfect prose by those literary journals which years ago ... lifted nothing at all in her direction except the finger of scorn." She spent her final years in a wheelchair cared for by Maurice Goudeket whom she called "a saint". In 1951, she attended the premiere of a documentary film about her life, and at the end, she was heard saying to Goudeket, "What a beautiful life I've had." By1954, Colette had written 50 published novels, many with autobiographical elements. Her themes can be roughly divided into idyllic natural tales or dark struggles in relationships and love. All her novels were marked by clever observation and dialogue with an intimate, explicit style. When she died in Paris on 3 August 1954, she was the first woman given a state funeral in France, although she was refused Roman Catholic rites because of her divorces. Colette is interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.