Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marquesa Luisa Casati

I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario the other day, and had forgotten that they possessed a portrait of the fabled Marquesa Luisa Casati, by Augustus John.

At the beginning of the twentieth century right through until the late 1930’s, she was one of the most recognizable and exotic creatures in European society. Like a whirling dervish she rushed headlong into society, inspiring and maybe even frightening all of whom she came into contact with, whether it be couturiers such as Schiaparelli, authors like Proust or artists like Augustus John.

Maybe it was her appearance that left all she encountered quivering in her wake? Tall and thin, with an almost deathlike pallor to her skin, which was topped off with the reddest hair that anyone had ever seen. Large green eyes that bewitched were crowned with immense false eyelashes and the thickest lines of kohl ever seen since Cleopatra. It was even said that she added belladonna to these so that they glittered like emeralds, so that they were even more enticing.
Asked to dine with her and you could have been seated next to a bizarre wax mannequin, said to contain the ashes of a past love, while you were waited upon by nude servants only attired in gold leaf. Animals were an accessory to be worn and paraded around like the panthers and cheetahs she parade around Paris on diamond studded leads, or the live snakes she wore as jewellery.

Like Madame Rubinstein, she is perhaps one of the most artistically represented women of the twentieth century. Painted by artists such as August John, Kees Van Dongen and countless others. If you were a photographer you also didn’t escape her clutches, as Man Ray and Cecil Beaton found out! Today she still inspires the same groups of people sh e did in her lifetime. John Galliano for Dior devoted a whole collection to her.

Unfortunately with all this excess she went from being one of the richest women in Europe to dying in relative obscurity and poverty in London in 1957. It was even said that right up to the end she was sometimes spotted rummaging through garbage bins in search of feathers for her hair.


  1. Visit the official site at

  2. Aren't we lucky to have the Augustus John portrait in Toronto? It is one of our treasures. Last winter Chanel did a Marchesa Casati inspired cruise collection, and it was modelled on the boardwalk of the Lido in Venice. The heavy kohl eyes and wavy red coiffure looks amazingly modern. No doubt she will continue to inspire as future generations discover her.

  3. Sqaure, yes we are soooo lucky. I just love this portrait and even have a framed postcard of it home.


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