lundi 15 septembre 2008

Carmen Tortola Valencia, Myrurgia's Maja

If Myrurgia’s Andalusian dancer is mythical in Spain, it isn’t only because she adorns the labels of its most famous fragrance. Her model, the dancer Carmen Tortola Valencia, is herself a legend in her native country.

Born in 1885 in Triana, the gypsy quarter of Seville, Carmen Tortola Valencia grew up in London, where her parents emigrated when she was three. It was there that she began dancing to support herself in 1908, in a music-hall. But her career took a new, more artistic turn when she discovered the American dancers Loïe Fuller and Isadora Duncan in Paris, the following year.

Considered one of the most beautiful women in Europe, highly cultured, and a sometimes painter, Tortola Valencia studied the traditional dances of Africa, the Orient and India to draw her inspiration from them. Nicknamed the « Barefoot Dancer »by the poet Ruben Dario, she shocked and fascinated as much by her sensuous choreographies – such as « The Dance of Incense » -- as by her free and scandalous private life. There were rumours of affairs with the Prince of Wales and the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, as well as with the great Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and the Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga, who did her portrait in 1914. She was said to be engaged to the marquess of Vinént : she wasn’t ; he was gay. In fact, so was she : her most constant companion, until her death in Barcelona in 1955, was Angeles Vila-Magret, fourteen years her junior.

The Buddhist, vegetarian and lesbian Tortola Valencia became the muse of Spanish painters and writers. Ruben Dario, Pio Baroja, Miguel de Valle-Inclan and Raul Gomez de la Serna all wrote poems in her honour.

In 1918, a photograph of Tortola Valencia, wearing the traditional comb and mantilla of the Spanish majas, inspired the design of the label for Myrurgia’s Maja fragrance. Her haughty silhouette, adorned in red and black, would be redesigned so many times that very little trace remains of her saucy features. What a strange way for the Queen of baile to survive the oblivion to which dance, the ephemereal art in which so many women expressed their genius, succumbs by its very nature.

Image: Carmen Tortola Valencia, photographed by Espasio Amatler (1914)

12 commentaires:

  1. Thanks so much for bringing this character to light! I wonder why Isadora Duncan can generate a fair amount of mythology, yet this interesting person languishes here in the States...part of me wonders if there is a bit more of a barrier than language.

    Carmen Tortola Valencia. Will remember that name, and her, thanks to you.

  2. Scentself, I was fascinated when I discovered her, but though her career was European, her fame is mostly Spanish. And Spain underwent a cultural eclipse after 1936, while Duncan's memory could be perpetuated both in Europe and America. Maybe Duncan was also more original and influential in her oeuvre than Tortola Valencia. And the American dancer's tragic death also added to the legend!

  3. It's sad that the fragrance Maja no longer reflects ANY of this history...
    A sad, wan, anemic little vestige of its former self.

    What a fascinating lady-
    Wouldn't I have adored her, myself.

    [Oh- btw- as a girl, I used to 're-enact' the death of Isadora- complete with scarf !- in my 'play', LOL !]

  4. While fashion of early 20's is remembered as the time of la garçonne, there is also a strong spanish influence in the moments after WWI. Poiret had 2 collections (and some perfumes) inspired by this theme, as well as many other designers in 1919-1921. It's also the moment when Valentino did his famous tango, the dance already a craze in Paris, just before the War.
    In Vogue and Femina there are many pictures of spanish fashions and spanish actors and I believe also Carmen Tortola Valencia.

  5. Ahhhh, those were the women... today's celebs are such a pale match in comparison... that Dance of Incense must have been something special. As usual, a fascinating piece, thanks.

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  7. Chaya, wouldn't I have loved to see your childhood "play"... It is a pity about Myrurgia fragrances. They are now drugstore cheapies.
    Tortola Valencia was certainly an exceptional character.

  8. Octavian, thanks for the input. The 20s were absolutely fascinated by exotica (Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle-East, Ancient Egypt, Latin America and of course Spain) and their fashion reflects it. Even Chanel did gypsy dresses in the late 30s!

    1. How can I find a poster of the the live portrait vs the one that looks "cartoonish? Would the copyright be expired by now to copy & enlarge it myself?

  9. Maybe Carmen Tortola Valencia was also a perfume lover... There's a bio in Spanish but I haven't read it. I'll have to order it and find out, it wouldn't surprise me a bit.

  10. Pretty fascinating stuff. I want to know more about this woman. I'm in love just hearing about her. And hello again, Denyse! I have been underground all week in my work, but your blog is in full bloom with more great articles, I see.

  11. Hi Cait! Nice to see you back here!
    There's a Spanish bio of Tortola Valencia by María Pilar Queralt del Hierro, "Tórtola Valencia, una mujer entre sombras", Barcelona, Editorial Lumen, 2005. You do read Spanish, don't you? It's fairly recent, so I'm sure it could be hunted down.