So you’ve been to Paris, you’ve been to Berlin, but have you been to paris/berlin?
Thom Ayres’ dazzling collection of images from the two cities in their between-the-wars heyday of high living and heedless experimentation is essential viewing. And I’m especially grateful that this visual tumult of dark glamour and erotic abandon has alerted me to 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?