Jeanne DuVal was the beautiful muse of Charles Baudelaire and would inspire his glowing devotion. The Black Venus and Mistress of Mistresses as he called her is mostly unknown still to this day.
Much of the details of her life are murky due to a fire that would destroy her vital documents.
Jeanne was tall and beautiful and her striking looks got her a role on the stage. Performing at the Théâtre de la Porte Sainte Antoine, although she wasn’t the best actor. A girl has to eat, so she became a prostitute for a short period. Nadar, the French photographer saw her on the stage and the two began an affair that lasted a year. It was through Nadar that Jeanne and Baudelaire would meet, but their love affair didn’t start right away.
One night in Montmartre Baudelaire came across Jeanne being harassed by a group of drunks and stepped in to save her. After that, the two began their 20-year tumultuous relationship. Baudelaire was already working on Fleur de Mal when the two began. Jeanne would inspire the flowery devotions of love and when things were bad would also inspire the hate-filled pieces.
Fleur de Mal covered everything from the transformation of Paris, which he was highly against, lesbianism, eroticism, and love. Many people loved it but just as many hated it. Baudelaire and his printer were prosecuted for “attack on public morals”.
Living all over Paris, including the Hotel Lauzun on the Ile de la Cite and he rented a place for Jeanne just down the island on Rue le Regrattier. When they went through rough patches it wouldn’t last long. He would be at her apartment giving her money and spending time together much to his mother's chagrin.
Baudelaire’s close friend Edouard Manet painted a portrait of Jeanne after seeing her only once. The “Mistress of Baudelaire” 1862 captures Jeanne seated on a couch with her legs up and enveloped in a large white skirt. Her arm over the back of the couch and her feet are placed in a strange way due to her paralysis, which many may never notice as the skirt shields most of her. Shortly after Jeanne would die.
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