Lola Montez: From Courtesan to Curtains

Courtesy of the Performing Arts Museum Victorian Arts Centre

Madeleine Castaing was famous for quoting exorbitant prices for items in her shop, either because she wasn't really interested in selling the piece or perhaps because she didn't want to sell it to you. What she did sell meter after meter of was her line of fabrics, manufactured by Hamot and currently still in production from Edmond Petit. (Clarence House are the stockists in the US.)

Courtesy of Edmond Petit

"Lola Montez" is hands-down my favorite. Castaing was very creative with her upholstery and often used this as a border around the skirt of a chair or an edge of a curtain.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

But who is or was Lola Montez?

Born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (1821-1861) in County Sligo, Ireland, Lola was a wild child sent from school to school until she eloped with a young officer at the age of sixteen. Alas, it was a disastrous match and Lola soon fled Calcutta(!) and reinvented herself as a Spanish dancer, debuting in London in 1843. Scandal followed Lola around Europe as she added various great men to her list of conquests, including Franz Liszt and Ludwig I, the king of Bavaria, who made her the Countess of Landsfeld.

Like many independent women of this time who lived life on their own terms, Lola died young and penniless. The highs were high and the lows low. This is an extremely condensed version of her life and it's worth reading more. OR seeing the movie which perhaps Mme Castaing also saw.

In 1955, Martine Carol played Lola Montès in the film directed by Max Ophüls. Although it is also possible that Castaing merely read the book La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montès by Cécil Saint Laurent on which the film was based, I like to think she did see the film. It portrays Lola at the end of her career, making ends meet by performing in a circus in which she recounts her past exploits. Peter Ustinov plays the ringmaster who refers to her as no less than a creature, a wild beast.

There is a surreal element to the circus scenes and their commentary on celebrity that would certainly have intrigued MC, who counted Cocteau among others as a close friend.