La Revue Blanche, Misia, the Natansons, Villeneuve sur Yonne


PWT 50-2015

La Revue Blanche, Misia, the Natansons

“One of the leading Paris avant-garde print organs, La Revue Blanche, was run by Thadée Natanson, who hailed from a prominent banking family. His wife Misia was also active in the magazine and in maintaining the constant political and artistic conversation that took place around the magazine…

At age 21, Misia Sert had married twenty-year-old Thadée Natanson, a Polish émigré. Natanson frequented the haunts favored by the artistic and intellectual circles of Paris. He became involved in political causes, championing the ideals of socialism, which he shared with his friend Leon Blum, and was a Dreyfusard. The Natanson home on the Rue St. Florentine became a gathering place, for such cultural lights as Marcel Proust, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, Claude Debussy, Stéphane Mallarmé, and André Gide. The entertainment was lavish. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed playing bartender at Natanson’s parties, and became known for serving a potent cocktail— a drink of colorful layered liqueurs dubbed the Pousse-Café. All were mesmerized by the charm and youth of their hostess. In 1889, Natanson debuted La Revue blanche, a periodical committed to nurturing new talent and showcasing the work of the post-Impressionists, Les Nabis. Sert became the muse and symbol of La Revue blanche, appearing in advertising posters created by Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. A portrait of Sert by Renoir is now in the Tate Gallery. Marcel Proust used Sert as the prototype for the characters of “Princess Yourbeletieff” and “Madame Verdurin” in his roman à clef, Remembrance of Things Past.

Natanson’s La Revue blanche coupled with his political activism required an influx of capital, which he alone was unable to supply. Needing a benefactor, he approached Alfred Edwards, a newspaper magnate, the founder of the foremost newspaper in Paris, Le Matin. Edwards had become enamored with Sert and had taken her as his mistress in 1903. He would supply money, but only on the condition that Natanson relinquish his wife to him.

On February 24, 1905, Sert became the wife of Alfred Edwards. Sert and her new husband took up an opulent lifestyle in their apartment on Rue de Rivoli, overlooking the Tuileries Palace. Here Sert continued welcoming artists, writers, and musicians in her home. Maurice Ravel dedicated Le Cygne (The Swan) in “Histoires naturelles” and La Valse (The Waltz) to her. Sert accompanied Enrico Caruso on the piano while the opera star entertained the assembled listeners with a repertory of Neapolitan songs. Edwards proved an unfaithful husband, and Sert divorced him in 1909. In 1914 Sert married her third husband, Spanish painter Josep Maria Sert. This period began her reign and fame as cultural arbiter, which lasted more than thirty years. Writer Paul Morand described her as a “collector of geniuses, all of them in love with her.””

Leave a Reply