August 31, 2018
Misia - Another Red-headed Muse - Part Three
Photo of Misia by Vuillard, 1897Misia by Renoir 1904
In 1907 Misia’s marriage to Alfred Edwards was in tatters. Misia was extremely jealous of her husband's mistress Genevieve Lantelme, and said in her memoirs "I had contrived to get a photograph of Lantelme; it adorned my dressing-table, and I made desperate efforts to look like her, dress my hair in the same way, wear the same clothes."
Genevieve Lantelme and Edwards married but in 1911 Lantelme drowned after falling off Edwards’ yactht.
Around 1909 Misia began an affair with the lusty Spanish Painter José Maria Sert; she married him in 1920. Sert’s murals achieved international recognition. His work adorns the assembly hall of the League of Nations, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and his mural at the Rockefeller Center replaced the one painted by Diego Rivera which was dismantled after Rockefeller objected to its subject matter.
José Maria Sert
Sert had been working at the Ballets Russes painting sets and creating the dancer's costumes. He was a colourful, fiery man with enough money to keep Misia in the style to which she had been accustomed. They decorated their apartment on the Rue de Rivoli in an unorthodox but staggeringly grand way. Massive pieces of rock crystal were placed in front of the fire to refract light. Tables were made of tortoiseshell or the semi-precious malachite.
Mural by Sert, Rockefeller Center
In the meantime thanks to Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, Misia’s drawing-room on the Rue de Rivoli became home away from home for the Russians. She opened her door to him while he broadened her horizons. When Igor Stravinsky first played the score of Le Sacre du Printemps to Diaghilev, the event inevitably took place in Misia’s apartment.
Misia loved José Sert, saying she was the only man who truly “satisfied” her. But Misia had a way of attracting younger, prettier women into her circle who threatened to steal her man. This time Roussy Mdivani was the thief.
Roussy managed to crawl into the Sert’s bedroom the last time José made love to Misia. Misia didn't hold a grudge, "The poor girl was not responsible for the feeling she had for you." she wrote Sert. "I found it very natural that she should adore you."
Misia was weirdly fond and protective of Roussy Mdivani, inviting her everywhere and tending to her health. All three were taking drugs; Sert had always used cocaine, Misia was finding release in morphine, Roussy was willing to try anything. The triangle lasted for as long as Misia’s pride allowed. They divorced in 1927.
In Misia’s circle between the wars, fashion steadily got the edge on art. In 1916 Misia met Coco Chanel who was to become her closest female friend. Apparently Misia, although morphine-addicted, created bonsai-like table-top trees out of rock-crystal and semi-precious stones. It’s uncertain if she made the trees herself but she certainly designed them. She designed dresses for a New York City fashion house around the same time.
When Sert finally cut ties with Misia, she consoled herself with the company of Coco Chanel, who was to now assume the dominant role in Misia’s life. Jean Cocteau dramatized their friendship in Les Monstres Sacrés but apparently he really never understood their relationship.
After Roussy’s early death, José Sert moved back in with Misia. During World War II Misia did her best to save artist Max Jacob’s life, She tried to pull every string to save him from the Nazis.
At her post-war soirées she invited collaborators and résistants on different days, but if they happened to bump into each other by chance she left them to sort it out. Her close friend Coco was arrested for a short time, suspected of being a Nazi collaborator.
Misia lived until 1950. She survives only in the works of others.
photo of Lantelme found at http://elgrillo.web-log.nl/el_grillo/paris/index.html
top photo of Misia by Vuillard found at the great website http://www.aloj.us.es/galba/monograficos/LOFOTOGRAFICO/POSTIMPRESIONISTAS/Fotos_Vuillard1.htm