Still on the theme of divas. I was at the recently reopened Musée Carnavalet in the Marais district of Paris, a beguiling labyrinth of grand old spaces devoted to the history of the city. In a room documenting Parisian city life of the mid 20th century I found the above painting of Suzy Solidor. She was most definitely a diva and there is an Egypt connection.
She was born Suzanne Louise Marie Marion, later changing her name to Suzy Solidor when she became a cabaret star and eventual owner of a number of infamous Parisian nightclubs. No surprise really that the Carnavalet should have a portrait of her because there were many of them made, mostly at the request of Madam Solidor herself. She was an obsessive collector of her own image, a Kim Kardashian of the 1930s, documenting herself in painted portraits rather than selfies. She commissioned portraits from artists as diverse as Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka (below) and Francis Bacon. They hung in her clubs, where she and her guest artists would perform in front of them. After the Second World War, she was convicted as a collaborator because she’d kept her nightclubs open during German occupation and willingly, it was said, served German officers. She had to leave France and travelled to the US, taking her favourite portraits with her. By the time she died in 1983, she was completely forgotten.
I first came across her name when she was mentioned in connection with the burning down of Shepheard’s hotel, in January 1952. Some of the newspaper accounts of the event record that one of the ﬂeeing guests was Suzy Solidor. Some mention that she lost her jewellery in the fire; some reported later that some of her gems were recovered. Since then I’ve always been intrigued to know what she was doing in Cairo. Was she looking to add a selfie painted by Mahmoud Said to her collection? It’s unlikely we’ll ever know. Still, Solidor’s presence at Shepheard’s suggests that the hotel retained an air of glamour until the end.