Cora Pearl, famous courtesan of the Second Empire

Cora Pearl, famous courtesan of the Second Empire

Cora Pearl, L'Amour in 1867.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (area of ​​Compiègne) / Image Compiègne

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

André Gill's portraits

Under the Second Empire, the illustrated press experienced a considerable boom, in particular the satirical newspapers where the caricatures of Cham and Honoré Daumier flourished or the portraits-charge of André Gill from 1866 in the newspaper. The moon.

For two years, the designer reports weekly on all of Paris news through portraits of the most prominent artistic or literary celebrities. We discover here, full page on the front page of the newspaper, the polychrome caricature of the courtesan of English origin Cora Pearl, according to the usual aesthetic codes of André Gill: an enormous head on a thin body and precise accessories allowing the reader immediately identify the subject.

Image Analysis

Love in 1867

Courtesan Cora Pearl is already rich and famous when she tries her luck as an opera artist. On January 26, 1867, she played the role of Cupid in the very famous Offenbach operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld.

André Gill represents her here as the incarnation of Love, a week after taking the role. Against a backdrop of heart, the winged angel, armed with his bow and quiver, tramples on multiple bills from dentist, pantomime or saddler. The cartoonist plays here on the double use of the young woman in the years 1866-1867, namely that of the famous casserole extremely popular in Paris, a female figure emblematic of beauty and luxury, and that of an improvised lyrical artist in the theater. .

It takes a lot of nerve to embark on an operetta without real mastery of vocal technique. Cora Pearl probably only received basic musical education from her musician father. On the other hand, she undoubtedly has a certain stage presence. On the strength of its reputation as a great horizontal, it takes for granted the public of the demi-monde and that of its main clients, including her favorite lover, Prince Napoleon, cousin of the emperor. These supporters have come to cheer and applaud him.

This premiere was not a success, however. If a spectator like Zed (Baron de Maugny) admits the pleasure of watching her "almost naked, studded with diamonds", he remains dismayed by her performance which attracts him, he says, only whistles. Despite her obvious amateurism, she managed to ensure a dozen performances. Then, she is booed by a group of students who no longer accept to see a courtesan, British moreover, perform a role in an opera hall. The casserole Marie Colombier and Zed find her English accent absolutely ridiculous when she sings: "I am Kioupidone. Some of the audience laughs, which ends up discouraging her and prompting her to give up.


Cora Pearl, female icon of the Second Empire

Extremely rich, daring and provocative women, courtesans are perceived as decadent figures, emblematic of the imperial festival. They perfectly embody the corruption and debauchery of the Second Empire regime, denounced here by André Gill.

They are also models of beauty, setting trends and inventing new ways of being beautiful. In terms of make-up and hygiene care, they demonstrate originality and modernity, in a decidedly new style, by disseminating their practice to as many people as possible, thereby initiating a new art of being a woman.

The love merchant Cora Pearl is particularly renowned for being innovative in terms of aesthetics, a true discoverer in this area. She makes increasingly amazing appearances and serves as a role model for other women of her time. She revolutionized the way of making up herself by launching the fashion of shading the eyes, eyelashes and eyelids, as well as the use of a foundation powder that she would have created herself by adding substances to it. news giving a special effect. She was also the one who started the fashion for women to dye their hair, sometimes appearing redhead - which earned her the nickname Red Moon - her natural color, sometimes blonde, which everyone notices.

Endowed with an original and irreverent personality, celebrated in the press for her escapades and her dissolute loves, Cora Pearl perfectly masters the art of making people talk about her. Maintaining a sensual and feminine allure with a slim and toned figure, she is undoubtedly one of the female icons of the Second Empire.

  • courtesan
  • city
  • women
  • cabarets
  • cafe-concert
  • prostitution
  • casserole
  • Moon


AUTHIER Catherine, Exceptional women, women of influence: a history of courtesans in the 19th century, Paris, Armand Colin, 2015.

CHEVÉ Joëlle, The great courtesans, Paris, First, 2012.

HOUBRE Gabrielle, The book of courtesans: secret archives of the morality police (1861-1876), Paris, Tallandier, 2006.

RICHARDSON Joanna, Courtesans: the demi-monde in the 19th century, Paris, Stock, 1968.

ROUNDING Virginia, The large horizontals: lives and legends of four 19th century courtesans, Monaco / Paris, Éditions du Rocher, coll. "Anatolia", 2005.

To cite this article

Catherine AUTHIER, "Cora Pearl, famous courtesan of the Second Empire"

Video: Cora Pearls amazing adornment- Rogues Gallery Online 1867