This image of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was taken from a media still for a 1907 performance, Reve d’Egypte, in which she starred at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Colette’s short-lived music hall career, prior to her extensive success as a novelist, was marked by scandal. The aforementioned show included an on-stage kiss with another woman that caused the audience to riot, requiring the police to come and subdue the crowd. The performance was subsequently banned and Colette and her offending co-star, Mathilde de Morny, were forced to hide the romantic relationship that they had previously been living rather openly in.
The usage of this story began with a conversation that I had dealing with the early instances of transgressive art, from the public outrage at Manet’s 1863 showing of Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe, to the riots in Boston after a 1922 performance by Isadora Duncan. We talked about the general public acceptance of art and expression (except for Rudy Guliani, of course) in contemporary society. Nudity, violence and vice are all rather accepted and oft utilized by society in a startling array, yet the acceptance of homosexual couples is still curiously attacked. It is puzzling how a part of society with a nearly 50% divorce rate feels that the sanctity of marriage is under attack by others who wish to live as they do. I am undoubtedly pleased to live in a country where I enjoy the fullest freedoms of expression by am still shamed by the lack of social advances that persist.