Dress-down Friday: Étienne de Beaumont (and guests)

Today we briefly consider the epochal, life-changing camp of Étienne de Beaumont.

Loving the French balletomane count is not unproblematic, no matter how magnificently attired he was. But we can leave it to another day to discuss his arch-elitism, dubious wartime record and anti-democratic views (OK, just a taste. Talking to Misia Sert, Beaumont said: “You know, Misia, in the old days Mother used to invite the common soldiers of the local garrison to our château once a year. Now, ma chère, it’s the garrison every day.”)

No, today is going to be a largely context-free gawp at Beaumont’s famous balls and the guests who loved them, a celebration of fancy dress and just plain dressin’ fancy. Even in his day clothes there is something performative about the count, a kind of Aristocratic Realness, a suggestion of ever-present sartorial recklessness which inspired his guests. We espy Sara and Gerald Murphy, for example, dressed in tribute to the motor car. Even notorious shut-in Marcel Proust couldn’t resist a Beaumont blowout. Unfortunately I have mislaid the identity of the resourceful guest who came as all three Rhinemaidens. Can anyone help me out?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


  1. Are these the maidens? I can’t place the face! It’s like a blend of Elsie de Wolfe and Beaumont’s wife (a doomed Modernist wrote a book satirizing this relationship, later turned into a film).

    I found this relic while trying to crack the case. Almost want to take up smoking just to have it…

  2. thombeau


  3. AM

    Is that constrictor real? Most girls are satisfied with feathers.

  4. Liz

    The lady dressed as three Rhine maidens is indeed Edith, Countess Étienne de Beaumont. The photo was taken in 1929 at the Materials Ball given by Viscount and Viscountess de Noailles

  5. Amanda Beresford

    Are you sure that it’s the Bal des Matériaux? I think it is more likely the Bal de l’Opéra, given Comtesse Edith’s Wagnerian getup.

  6. Amanda Beresford

    Who is Tarzan? It looks like Jean Marais. Anyone?

  7. Rob chong

    The morgan twin sisters?aka gloria vanderbilt sr., lady furness

  8. Amanda Beresford

    I can confirm that 1. the lady with the masks is the Countess, but they are not Rhinemaidens. The costume was designed by Valentine Hugo for Edith for the Fête des Diadems at the Paris Ritz Hotel in July, 1926. The tiaras were the point of the costume; it had nothing to do with Wagner. 2. The guy in leopardskin is indeed Jean Marais, Cocteau’s life partner. I think the ball is the le Bal du Tercentenaire de Racine (1939), but I’m not positive. BTW, I’m writing a dissertation on Beaumont and his milieu, so I’m happy to supply any info to the curious.

    • Claudia Einecke

      Hi Amanda! Do you have any idea which year the “Bal de la mer” was held? I’m researching a painting by Max Ernst that belonged to Beaumont and which has an aquatic theme. the size suggests it was a decoration, perhaps for one of the balls.

      • Amanda Beresford

        Yes! The Bal de Mer was 1928. There is a large painting (9.5 x 7 feet) by Picasso in the Chrysler Museum in Virginia that was originally done as a decoration for that ball, and a sketch for it (wrongly dated and identified) in the Musée Picasso. I am intrigued to know that Beaumont owned a painting by Ernst–I would love to know what that was! I would certainly credit you for the information in my dissertation.

    • Nicholas Whitlam

      Do you have the date of the Automotive Ball in 1924? And anything else on it?

      • Amanda Beresford

        It’s not clear that there was any such ball, although it is referred to in several published sources, and the idea has acquired some currency as a result. The famous photo of Gerald and Sara Murphy in metallic outfits is usually said to relate to an Automotive ball in 1924, but the only ball Beaumont gave that year was the Charity Ball in connection with his theatre season Soirée de Paris, during the run, on the theme of Theatre, Circus and Music Hall. Another possibility is the Materials ball given by the Noailles, but the year doesn’t fit. 1924 does fit for the Murphys, as they weren’t in Paris for very long, but I have found no mention of an Automotive ball in Beaumont’s papers nor in any other authoritative source. I think they may have been attired for the Charity Ball, and someone (their daughter, who owns the photo?) did a back-inference from the costumes and invented an Automotive ball that never existed. But I am happy to be proved wrong, if anyone has any evidence to the contrary!

      • Nicholas Whitlam

        That’s helpful. Thanks. Do you have a date for the Charity Ball?

      • Amanda Beresford

        May 31, 1924. But this (previous answer) is pure speculation on my part.

      • Nicholas Whitlam

        The Beamonts Ball during the Soirée de Paris was on 15 June, immediately after the première of the ballet Mercure.

  9. Claudia Einecke

    That’s fantastic. Thank you, Amanda! Yes, I would very much like to exchange knowledge about Beaumont and artists he commissioned. Perhaps off-blog? My email is claudia.einecke@high. org.

  10. Amanda Beresford

    Nicholas, I am interested to know why you say so. June 15 was the répétition générale (public dress rehearsal) of Mercure, when the notorious protest by the Surrealists, André Breton and his friends, took place. I am not aware of a ball being held that night and I would have thought it unlikely. The Charity Ball I mentioned above certainly did happen on May 31. I have done extensive research in Beaumont’s personal papers and I can confirm that date beyond any doubt. I would be surprised to hear that he gave another ball two weeks later, but perhaps you have other sources of information.

    • Nicholas Whitlam

      On page 260 of John Richardson’s “A Life of Picasso”, Volume III says: “Undeterred by the fracas, Beaumont went ahead with the ball he has arranged to follow the ballet.” I take it you are sure about 15 June being the dress rehearsal, not the opening night? I thought it was the opening night. It would make sense (?) to stage a protest on opening night rather than at a dress rehearsal.

      • Amanda Beresford

        The répétition générale was, effectively, the opening night–it was the society gala, to which important guests were invited, which is why Breton et al chose it for their demonstration–it afforded them maximum publicity. Unusually, the r.g. for Mercure was held the night after its official (public) opening, which was Saturday June 14. The stage manager’s notes and other contemporary documents confirm this. But it was a very different affair from what we now think of as a rehearsal; it was a full performance. As for the ball, it was May 31. I believe Richardson is wrong about that, as he is about so many details. He is an unreliable, if entertaining, source, who never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  11. Stephen Pinson

    Does anybody have an idea about the date or identity of the couple in this picture?
    Eugenia Errázuriz doesn’t seem right…

    • Amanda Beresford

      Stephen Pinson, thank you for making me aware of this. Several more photographs of this couple by Man Ray were taken at the same time, and opinion differs as to the identity of the woman. I think the Phillips auction catalogue is relying on the exhibition Au Temps du Boeuf sur le Toit, (1981) whose catalogue identifies her as Eugenia Errázuriz and also (mis)dates the ball as 1925. This is from the bal des Matières, given by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles, which in fact happened in 1929. The man is always taken to be Beaumont, which seems right, but his partner is more likely to be his wife, Edith. Their matching shiny plastic costumes (very original then) support this, as does their close relation in Man Ray’s other shots from the same occasion. Faucigny-Lucinge (who was probably there) identifies her as Edith, and although he makes the odd mistake, he is generally a reliable source. I am at present writing a book on Beaumont and his balls, so I am happy to answer any questions if I can.

      • Claudia Einecke

        I hesitate to disagree with the experts, but I believe this photo of Étienne and Édith de Beaumont was taken at their own ball in 1923 or 1924, the “bal de la mode de demain” or “bal de la mode du future.” The photo was published in the magazine Fémina (along with other shots, such as as one of Picasso in a toreador’s costume in the company of Olga and Eugenia Errázuriz; and one of Sarah and Gerald Murphy in fabulous automotive costumes, which both are usually dated to ca. 1924 or ca. 1925). Not having found access to the Fémina issue itself to verify the date, I am not sure if the ball was in 1923 or 1924. Stéphane Boudin-Lestienne (researcher at Villa Noailles) said in a talk that it was 1923. Cf. https://www.inha.fr/fr/recherche/le-departement-des-etudes-et-de-la-recherche/missions-et-operations/le-festival-de-l-histoire-de-l-art/videos/matiere-de-l-oeuvre.html

      • Stephen Pinson

        Amanda and Claudia, thanks for your responses. After Amanda’s initial reply, I too was led to M. Boudin-Lestienne’s talk and Fémina magazine, and have since been trying to track down an issue before posting. I don’t yet have the magazine in hand, but the photos Claudia mentions are published in an article titled “A La Mode de Demain chez Comte Et. de Beaumont,” and the couple in question are identified as Comte Étienne de Beaumont and the Marquise de Jaucourt, making an entrance as “le tableau noir et blanc.”
        Amanda, I look forward to your book.

      • Amanda Beresford

        Thank you Claudia and Stephen for this conversation! Playing what ball (or guest) is that? with these marvelous images is so tantalizing, especially in view of the diversity of contradictory information and opinion that exists around them. It’s often hard to be certain of who–or when–we are seeing, and Beaumont’s papers are not always helpful. I would not wish to be doctrinaire about this one, but I do hope to nail it down eventually. The Murphy photos are indeed a puzzle: they are often described as being costumed for an “Automative Ball” chez Beaumont, yet I have found no evidence but hearsay of any such event. I have tentatively placed them at the 1924 Charity Ball (theme: music-hall, circus and café-concert), but the costumes don’t really fit…if there was “a bal de la mode de demain” or “… du future” that would be a better match. M. Boudin-Lestienne does seem like an excellent source.

  12. Amanda Beresford

    I should add that the photo of both Picassos with Mme. Errázuriz can be sourced with some certainty to the 1924 ball I mentioned above. Which may confuse the issue…but I haven’t got hold of the Fémina article yet either.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: