Some of the greatest jewelry collectors of the 19th century were courtesans, women of the demimondaine who amassed small fortunes while lying horizontal. But we rarely see jewelry gifted from a courtesan to her lover as is the story of Natalie Clifford Barney and Liane de Pougy.
A wealthy American from an industrialist family in Ohio, Natalie Clifford Barney moved to Paris during the Belle Epoque like may women of her social class did. Unlike most, she fell in love with Liane de Pougy, one of the most famous courtesans in Paris who performed at the Folies Bergère.
Natalie Clifford Barney (left) and Liane de Pougy (right):
In 1899 Liane de Pougy commissioned two pieces of jewelry by René Lalique as gifts for Natalie Clifford Barney. One was an opal, diamond and blue enamel anklet and the other a silver, enamel and moonstone ring. Both pieces were decorated with a bat motif, an extremely unusual and highly evocative image for the period. The bat has the highest rate of homosexuality among mammals and their sexuality was first studied in 1895 by Rollinat and Trouessart (French). The image of a bat became a symbol of homosexuality, which certainly makes one think twice about the origins of the phrase “she’s gone batty.”
Natalie Clifford Barney stayed in Paris and wrote openly about her lesbian relationships, she actively supported feminism and brought together writers and artists in her salon on Rue Jacob in the 6th arrondissement. Liane de Pougy eventually married Prince Georges Ghika and in 1910 became Princess Ghika of Romania. These two exceptional pieces of jewelry were bequeathed to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs by Natalie Clifford Barney’s sister in 1966 and are on display, along with the rest of her jewelry, in the Galerie des Bijoux.