Paris, beginning of the twentieth century
During the Belle Époque, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris is characterized by a generalized sense of euphoria, thanks to the economic growth, a relative political stability, the development of new technologies, inventions aimed at improving the quality of life and a lively and rich cultural atmosphere. Art takes on new forms with Impressionism and Art Nouveau. The "divine" Eleonora Duse (1859-1924) is the queen of the theatres of half Europe, a new idol and myth after Sarah Bernhardt. Paris goes literally crazy for her intense performance as Margherita Gautier in the Dame aux Camélies, by Alexandre Dumas jr. The character, inspired by Alphonsine Duplessis, that later became Violetta Valéry in the Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, young lover of Alexandre himself, was undermined by consumption; for this reason, the scent of any flower was intolerable to her, with the exception of the camellia. White and red camellias decorated in fact her Parisian home, her magnificent dresses, the daring neckline and her hats. We are in a theatre, where the Dame aux Camélies is being performed, before 1909, the date that marks Eleonora’s retirement from the theatre. She will appear again on stage for just a brief, but intense period from 1921 to few years before her death, during a theatrical tournée in Pittsburg, United States. The stage is dark, with the exception of the stage lights, Eleonora is taking a break and is wearing a dressing gown. Beside her, on an armchair, there is a closed parasol.

  • From some passages in Eleonora Duse’s secret diary: "Lisbon… Dame aux Camélies, …thirty-six calls…more cheering outside the theatre… Some ladies have placed their mantillas on the ground from the entrance to the theatre to my carriage. …Delightful romance and gallantry of the passionate Iberian people". (N. Bolla, Eleonora Duse, romanzo della sua vita, Rome, 1945, p.307).
  • The countries that mostly showed to be abreast with the new aesthetic transformations that were taking place at the beginning of the twentieth century were France and Austria. The Society of French Lace was founded in France after the 1904 exhibition at Palais Galliéra, and it organized competitions of lace design open both to lace schools and independent lace makers. In Austria, the Wiener Werkstätte, the famous school of Arts and Crafts of Wien, created a Lace, Embroidery and Weaving department, where new lace, based on a renewed creative inspiration, was created. (A. Kraatz, Merletti, Milan, 1988, p.163).
  • Analyzing the photos of actress Eleonora Duse, it is evident that her clothing style both in everyday life and on stage, was rather bizarre: plenty of heavy and showy trimmings, she often used braiding, ruffles, ribbons and lace. She exaggerated in necklaces and bracelets, very long gloves, hats and fans decorated with feathers. The few remaining pictures of her dating from the early 1880s, show how she followed the fashion of the period wearing elegant and essential dresses, while in the following 20 years her style became much more whimsical. (D. Davanzo Poli, Vestiti nella vita, costumi nella scena, F. Bandini (edited by) in Divina Eleonora. Eleonora Duse nella vita e nell'arte, Venice, 2001, p.123).
  • Paolo Schlenther, connoisseur and critic, after her first performances in Berlin, wrote about Eleonora Duse’s theatrical talent: "… If Mrs Duse is not beautiful, she can become beautiful, since to every single feeling in her soul corresponds a change in her face … Never has a still alive person had the appearance of a corpse as Duse had when, in the part of Fedora, she has the poison already in the body, and, even more, in the soul. For these transformations, she does not need exterior devices, and she does not seem to rely much on the make-up. She achieves these transformations only through the strength of her feelings." (E.A. Rheinhardt, Eleonora Duse, Milan, 1931, p.137).
  • In the role of Margherita Gautier in the Dame aux Camélies staged for the first time in 1882, Duse chose white and luminous costumes. In particular, the dress preserved at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and almost certainly realized by English couturier Worth, was worn by Eleonora herself most probably for the 1904 edition at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. (D. Davanzo Poli, Vestiti nella vita, costumi nella scena, F. Bandini (edited by) in Divina Eleonora. Eleonora Duse nella vita e nell'arte, Venice, 2001, p.123-154).
Arnaldo Caprai Gruppo Tessile Srl - s.s. Flaminia km 148 – 06034 Foligno - Perugia – Italy - © 2015 - REA 222120 - P.iva 02507670541 - Telefono: +39 074239251 - Fax: +39 0742 679242 -