Today is the anniversary of the birth of Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944), French cabaret singer and actress of La Belle Époque. Artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec was captivated by her and she modeled for him many times, although what emerged was not always a flattering likeness.
Perhaps Toulouse Lautrec was faithful in his rendering of Guilbert’s unconventional appearance. Rumour has it that she exchanged the following words with Oscar Wilde at the studio of Wilde’s friend, artist Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy:
Ne suis-je pas, Monsieur, la femme la plus laide de France ? (Am I not, Sir, the ugliest woman in France?)
To which Wilde replied:
Du monde, Madame, du monde (The world, Madame, the world).
It’s a great story but I’m not certain I believe it since Wilde was generally far more gallant than that. Although I decided not to include this peripheral figure in Wilde’s Women, there is evidence that she met Wilde.This pencil drawing, dated 1898, by Catalan artist Ricard Opisso i Sala (1880-1966), shows Toulouse Lautrec, Wilde and Guilbert sitting together at Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre, Paris.
They are together in death since both are buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.