Vintage Actress: Cleo de Merode

We have so many beautiful photo postcards of Victorian Edwardian actresses and dancers in our Ladies Photos collections, and we thought it would be fun to feature a few favorites. If you are familiar with our photo collections you'll recognize these faces, and maybe you'll enjoy knowing a little more about these famous ladies of the stage.

Many will recognize the unforgettable face of Cleo de Merode.Cléo de Mérode (September 27, 1875 – October 17, 1966), born Cléopatra Diane de Mérode in Paris, France, was the daughter of the Austrian landscape painter Karl Freiherr von Merode, part of a famous Belgian noble family. She began her study of dance at age eight and made her professional debut at age eleven.

Cléo de Mérode quickly became known for her beauty and glamour even more than for her dancing skills, and her image began appearing on postcards and playing cards. A unique new hairdo she choose to wear became the talk of Parisian women. She was also noted for her tiny waist which was accentuated by the tightlacing that was popular at the time. Sculptor Alexandre Falguière sculpted "The Dancer" in her image, which today can be seen in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Several famous artists of the day painted her portrait. Later in Vienna her beauty caught the attention of painter Gustav Klimt.

In 1896, 61-year-old King Léopold II of Belgium saw Mérode dance in the ballet and became enamoured with the 22-year-old. Gossip started that she was his latest mistress. Because the King had two children with a woman reputed to be a prostitute, Cléo de Mérode's reputation suffered.

Despite these whispers of scandal that followed Mérode for the rest of her life, she became an international star, performing across Europe and in the United States. At the peak of her popularity, she chose to dance at the famous cabaret Folies Bergères, taking the risk to do something other elites of the ballet had never done before. Her performance gained her a whole new following.

Very popular in her ancestral homeland of Austria as well as in Germany, she appeared in the 1926 German motion picture "Frauen der Leidenschaft." Mérode continued to dance until her early fifties when she retired to the seaside resort of Biarritz in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques area of France. In 1955 she published her autobiography, "Le Ballet de Ma Vie."

Cléo de Mérode died in 1966 and is buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where you will also find the tombs of other famous artists including Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Honore de Balzac, Delacroix, Moliere, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf (and later Jim Morrison).

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1 comment

Cleo de Merode was one of the legendary beauties of the Belle Epoque era. She was a major international star until the late 1920s when she retired. In the realm of photography, her image is one of the most eagerly sought from the Victorian, Edwardian, and Belle Epoque eras.


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