Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1855 - 1921) MP

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About Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac

Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) of noble blood, was one of the most flamboyant and arrogant men of his time. A somewhat poet, more an art critic but above all, a society dandy. He was considered the prince of the Aesthetic movement in Paris and was one of the first to proclaim the virtues of Art Nouveau. The women of Society flocked to him for advise and he had immense connections for artists who were in his favor. On a whim he would crush, like a bug, any artists he didn't like. His ruthlessness in this regard could be heartlessly curl.

Around him floated a wide circle of artists including actress Sarah Bernhardt, composer-friends like Gustave Moreau, and and Gabriel Fauré; one of his young 'disciples' the pianist Léon Delafosse; painters James McNeill Whistler, Antonio de la Gandara, Carolus-Duran, Paul César Helleu and Boldini (all paid tribute to him in paint); and there was Stephane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine and John Singer Sargent; along with writers such as Marcel Proust, and the list is almost endless.

If you were in the Paris art scene and wanted to be a "somebody", you most certainly had to know Montesquiou.

For someone that held so much influence and power over artists and the art scene in Paris, these overt displays of affection (whether from the artist or the patrons commissioning it) were as much about fear as it was about friendship. That so many artists paid tribute to the man -- almost gushing tribute -- was the equivalent of kissing the feet of a king. All were hoping to avoid being unlucky enough to fall out of his favor and feel the scorching sting of his wrath.

A great example of the "revenge" Montesuiou might extract is aptly highlighted in Marcel Proust, Correspondence.

     "(…) Avant de se brouiller avec Delafosse, Montesquiou s'était démené pour le faire entendre dans le monde, notamment chez Mme Lemaire et chez Mme de Pourtalès. Estimant que le pianiste  [Delafosse] l'avait payé d'ingratitude pour sa peine, le Comte prit sa revanche en écrivant un portrait satyrique du jeune homme en même temps que celui d'un autre de ses protégés disgraciés, le peintre Antoine de La Gandara, Delafosse y figurant comme peintre, La Gandara comme musicien [renversé de leurs rôles réels] sous le nom de "Gambara". Ces deux portraits parurent d'abord, sous le titre De l'arrivisme au muflisme [1] dans le Gil Blas du 20 octobre 1910; cet article est repris dans Têtes d'expression (1912), aux pages 261 à 275. Proust se souviendra de ces événements à propos des rapports du baron de Charlus et du violoniste Morel."

PROUST | Baron de Charlus De Charlus is said to be loosely based on Robert de Montesquiou, French Symbolist poet and art collector – and all around snob.

Proust seemed to have fawned on Montesquiou, and it seemed like a calculated relationship for the writer. "Proust was impressed by Montesquiou's combination of reverence for the arts and extraordinary social connections; the young man shared the first and coveted the second," wrote Edmund White.

In fact, White has quite a few things to say about Robert de Montesquiou:

In 1893 Proust met Robert de Montesquiou at the house of the hostess-painter Madeleine Lemarie … Montesquiou – a monster of egotism who needed constant praise as exaggerated as that which Nero had required, and who could be as sadistic as the Roman emperor if it was not forthcoming – was thirty-seven when Proust, just twenty-two years old, met him. In 1909 he gave a hint of his pretensions when he answered a questionnaire (“Who are you?”) by saying: “Related to a large part of the European aristocracy. Ancestors: Field-Marshals: Blaise de Montluc, Jean de Gassion, Pierre de Montesquiou, Anne-Piere de Montesquiou, the conqueror of Savoy, d’Artagnan (the hero of The Three Musketeers), the abbot de Montesquiou, Louis XVIII’s minister, the General Count A. de Montesquiou, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp.” Proust admired his dandy with his leanness (“I look like a greyhound in a greatcoat,” he said of himself), his fabled friendships with legendary poets such as Verlaine and Mallarme, and his cult of the beautiful conducted in his extravagant house, the Rose Pavilion…

Montesquiou was a grand seigneur, distinguished by such overweening pride that a society painter was once overheard saying about him, “There’s one good thing about the French Revolution. If it hadn’t happened, that man would have us beating his ponds to keep the frogs quiet.”

In his high-pitched, grating voice Montesquiou was constantly recited his own poetry from volumes with names like Hydrangeas, The Bats, and The Red Beads, or presiding over literary and musical soirees. No praise was too extravagant, and Proust knew how to lay it on thick. "You are the sovereign not only of transitory, but of eternal things," Proust wrote him. On another occasion Proust (ridiculously) compared him to the seventeenth-century playwright Corneille, the father of Frrench classical theater. But Proust was also the master of the nuanced compliments; after Montesquiou showed him his celebrated Japanese dwarf trees, Proust had the nerve to write him that his soul was "a garden as rare and fastiduous as the one in which you allowed me to walk the other day ..." And Montesquiou heard that Proust kept his friends in stitches imitating his way of speaking, of lauging, and of stamping his foot. Most daring of all, Proust proposed to write an essay to be titled "The Simplicity of Monsieur Montesquiou," who had never been previously accused of such a quality.

~ pp 59-60 from Marcel Proust: A Penguin Life

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Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac's Timeline

1855
1855
1921
1921
Age 66