In the archives of the Paris police there is a leather-bound volume known as The Book of the Courtesans, containing the criminal files of a group of women called Les Insoumis—The Rebels. These are their stories.
November 18, 1871
Clémence Andrieux was about twenty-five years old. She lived on the second floor at No. 26 rue Condorcet, where she rented an apartment for fifteen hundred francs.
According to the police, she was engaged in “illegal prostitution,” and she survived only on the money she received from the men she brought home or that she fetched at balls and other public places.
She had already been arrested for “debauchery.”
There was no attending photo.
“She listened to his propositions, turning them down every time with a shake of the head and that provocative laughter which is peculiar to full-bodied blondes.”
— Émile Zola
In the still dark hours of an early winter’s morning, the aroma of freshly baked bread wafted from the Boulangerie at No. 37 rue Condorcet. While arranging his baguettes and loaves in the window, the baker, Monsieur Fauchenx, might have looked out onto the quiet street to see two of his more noteworthy neighbors coming and going under the waning lamplight. The great white-haired architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who lived at No. 68, often walked this route in his coat and hat when he got an early start to his workday. From the other direction, the young courtesan Clémence Andrieux, trailing furs and a drunken gentleman or two, might be seen getting out of a carriage in front of No. 26 after a long night of partying, in the process of finally ending hers. On this morning, their paths could have easily crossed.
It is hard to say much about Clémence Andrieux for certain. After his death seven years later, her neighbor, the renowned castle-botherer Viollet-le-Duc, would leave his mark all over France, having remodeled many of the country’s medieval structures to better suit his romantic ideas of them. He would even go so far as placing a statue that served as a self-portrait on the base of the new spire of Notre Dame cathedral. It came crashing down in the fire of April 2019 but will no doubt be rebuilt. However, very little now remains of the young woman who made her money at parties: the debauched Mlle Andrieux.
I had no way of knowing if this was the same Mlle Andrieux who appeared in a series of costumed actress portraits by the photographer Ernest Ladrey, which are now scattered across Paris in various collections and archives. And I had no way of knowing if she was the Mlle Andrieux who posed as a dancer for the photography studio of Gaston & Matthieu. I found four different women named Clémence Andrieux in the city’s municipal archives, all of whom died between the 1870s and the 1930s. None of them were the right age to be the courtesan Mlle Andrieux.
Through property records, historian Gabrielle Houbre confirmed that in the early 1870s, a woman called Andrieux did live on the second floor at No. 26 rue Condorcet. She rented a sizable apartment consisting of an antechamber, a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, two bedrooms with fireplaces, and two water closets. As the police had noted, she paid one thousand five hundred francs a month.
I searched through the theatrical archives of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, hoping to find some trace of the women in the photographs. I had hoped to see if either of their first names had been Clémence, but I found nothing at all on any actress or dancer named Andrieux to either confirm or deny. At first another photo of a woman called Clémence, with no last name, appeared somewhat similar to me, and I wondered: Were they the same woman? The parallels and differences seemed to assert themselves in equal measure. At first I decided against it, but then later, after an earlier version of this post had already gone up, I finally received a high resolution reproduction of a dark haired woman in a party hat. The almond eyes, the eyebrows, face-shape, lips, and chin—this was her. Our Clémence.
I searched for her in the newspaper archives but turned up nothing once again.
Her apartment in the 1870s had a wrought iron balcony. There were two wine shops on her street, which ran between the rue Maubeuge and the Bohemian market street of the rue des Martyrs, where famous artists gathered at the corner Brasserie, and illustrious men of government and culture rubbed more than shoulders with the heavily perfumed actresses and models who made their way among them. A book shop stood on her street, and a hair salon, and the respectable residences of doctors and lawyers and architects like Viollet-le-Duc, and amidst them all—Clémence. Piecing her living together from the coffers of the men she met at parties, perhaps getting her photograph taken in the hopes that this could help her acting career take off, but never getting far enough to leave anything other than those photographs behind.
Editor: Aaron Gilbreath
REFERENCES & LINKS:
Archives de la préfecture de police, BB1
Les Livre des Courtisanes, by Gabrielle Houbre. Editions Tallandier, 2006
Annuaire-Almanach du Commerce, Firmin Didot et Bottin réunis, 1871 p.1525 (link)
“Rue Condorcet, Viollet le Duc, Nougaro,” Montmartre Secret, 21 November 2019 (link)