Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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La Lionne du Faubourg St. Germain

La Lionne du Faubourg St. Germain

Alfred André Géniole (French, 1813–1861) La Lionne du Faubourg St. Germain (The Female Dandy of the Faubourg St. Germain), 1841–42 Lithograph Gift of Eugene L. Garbaty, 1951.84.3

La Lionne du Faubourg St. Germain. —Dire qu'aujourd'hui une petite couturière peut avoir des armes sur la portière de sa calèche ! ça / croit faire la grande dame, en se donnant des airs de portière !

The Female Dance of the Faubourg St. Germain. —And to think that today a mere seamstress can have a coat of arms on her carriage door! She thinks she looks like a great lady, but she’s got all the grace of a portiere!

The terms lion (masculine) and lionne (feminine) were brought to France by émigrés returning from England. To be a lion one had to be as remarkable or prominent in the public eye as the lions on display at the tower of London. Lions and lionnes sought fame and celebrity status through elegant dress and feats of physical prowess. It took more than the impeccable fashion sense of the dandy to become a lionne. One had to take up fashionable male activities like horseracing, hunting, or cigar smoking. Some lionnes were suspected of taking these masculine behaviors even farther by gambling and indulging in extramarital affairs. The natu-ral habitats of the lionne were the Faubourg St. Germain, the preferred quarter of the old aristocracy, and the Chaus-sée d’Antin, home to the new bourgeois “aristocracy” of finance and industry.

This caption plays on the double meaning of portière— a carriage door or a female concierge. A much-studied working-class type, the portière was reputed to be stingy, uncouth, and extremely nosy. The social imposter mocked by this lionne is likely a lorette or aspiring courtesan.