Born 1875 in Paris, French dancer and model Cléo de Mérode was sent to study dance the age of eight, and made her professional debut at age eleven.
Mérode became renowned for her glamour even more than for her dancing skills. A particular new hairstyle she chose to wear became the talk of Parisian women and was quickly adopted as a popular style for all. Her fame was such that Alexandre Falguière sculpted The Dancer in her image, which today can be seen in the Musée d’Orsay.
In 1895, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec did her portrait, as would Charles Puyo, Alfredo Muller, and Giovanni Boldini. Her picture was taken by some of the most illustrious photographers of the day, including Félix Nadar.
In 1896, King Léopold II attended the ballet and saw Mérode dance. The 61-year-old Belgian King became enamoured with the 22-year-old ballet star, and gossip started that she was his latest mistress.
Very popular in her ancestral homeland of Austria as well as in Germany, her character appeared in the German film Women of Passion (1926), played by Fern Andra. In Vienna, her beauty caught the attention of painter Gustav Klimt, whose primary focus was on female sexuality. Their story was the basis of the film Klimt (2006), in which the character “Lea de Castro” is based on Cléo de Mérode.
Mérode continued to dance until her early fifties, when she retired to the seaside resort of Biarritz in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département of France. In 1955, she published her autobiography, Le Ballet de ma vie (The Dance of My Life).
Cléo de Mérode died in 1966, aged 91.
Take a look at these glamorous photos to see the beauty of Cléo de Mérode in the late 1890s and early 1900s.