He is reputed to have been the inspiration both for des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans' (1848-1907) À rebours (1884) and, most famously, for Baron de Charlus in Proust's (1871-1922) À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927).
Robert de Montesquiou was a scion of the famous French Montesquiou-Fézensac Family. He was a distant nephew of Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, the model for Dumas' Musketeer. His paternal grandfather was Count Anatole de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1788-1878), Aide-de-camp to Napoleon and grand officer of the Légion d'honneur; his father was Anatole's third son, Thierry, who married Pauline Duroux, an orphan, in 1841. With his wife's dowry, Thierry bought a Charnizay manor, built a mansion in Paris, and was elected Vice-President of the Jockey Club. He was a successful stockbroker who left a substantial fortune. Robert was the last of Count Thierry's children, brothers Gontran and Aymery, and sister Élise. His cousin, Élisabeth, comtesse Greffulhe (1860-1952), was one of Marcel Proust's (1871-1922) models for the duchesse de Guermantes.
He had social relationships and collaborations with many celebrities of the Fin de siècle period, including Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897), Edmond de Goncourt (1822–1896), Eleonora Duse (1858–1924), Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863-1938), Luisa Casati (1881-1957), Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), and Maurice Barrès (1862-1923).
He had a strong influence on Émile Gallé (1846-1904), a glass artist he collaborated with and commissioned major works from, and from whom he received hundreds of adulatory letters.
His portrait Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac was painted by his close friend, and model for many of his eccentric mannerisms, James Abbott McNeill Whistler in 1891-1892. (Picture: James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac, 1891–92, oil on canvas, The Frick Collection)
The French artist Antonio de La Gandara (1861-1917) produced several portraits of the Comte.
He wrote the verses found in the optional choral parts of Gabriel Fauré's Pavane.
His poetry has been called untranslatable, and was poorly received by critics at the time.
In his biography Philippe Jullian proposes that Moberly and Jourdain's 'Adventure' in 1901 in the grounds of the Petit Trianon is explained by them stumbling into a rehearsal of one of Montesquiou's Tableaux Vivant, with his friends (one possibly transvestite) dressed in period costume. Dr Joan Evans, who owned the copyright to 'An Adventure' accepted this solution and forbad any further editions.
Robert de Montesquiou, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Robert de Montesquiou, 1887, Jacques-Emile Blanche -- French painter 1861–1942
Prince of Aesthetes: Count Robert De Montesquiou, 1855-1921 by Philippe Jullian
Publisher: VIKING PRESS (1967)
Amazon: Prince of Aesthetes: Count Robert De Montesquiou, 1855-1921
Whistler and Montesquiou: The butterfly and the bat by Edgar Munhall
Paperback: 175 pages
Publisher: Flammarion (1995)
Amazon: Whistler and Montesquiou: The butterfly and the bat
The artist James Abbot McNeill Whistler's portrait of the poet and dandy Robert de Montesquiou held a nine year friendship, from their initial meeting in 1885 to the first public exhibition of Whistler's portrait of Montesquiou in 1894. This portrait, Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou is a masterpiece of Whistler's unique symbolist-inspired style. Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished archival material and correspondence (accompanied by a dazzling array of paintings, drawings, and engravings) Edgar Munhall uses this remarkable work as a starting point for exploring the development of Whistler's art, and in the process paints a delightful and fascinating portrait of the extraordinarily creative and sometimes bizarre avant-garde world of fin-de-siecle Paris and London. -- Midwest Book Review
Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France by Robert A. Nye
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (November 30, 1998)
Amazon: Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France
In this study of upper-class masculinity from the end of the ancien régime in 1789 to the end of World War I, Robert Nye argues that manhood, masculinity, and male sexuality is, like femininity, a cultural construct, comprising a strict set of heroic ideals and codes of honor which few men have been able to realize in practice. In doing so, Nye destabilizes and historicizes the male body, and incorporates gender into the brand of cultural history inaugurated by Norbert Elias in the 1930s.