1876 – 1917
Being born Margaretha Geertruida (Griet) Zelle in Leeuwarden she is known by her stage name Mata Hari.
Until she was 13 she was lectured French, German and English private lessons. Between 1883 and 1889 she lived with her parents, her father however went broke in 1889 and her parent divorced. Two years later her mothed died and she had to move to her godfather. When her father remarried in 1893 she moved to Leiden and went living with her uncle in Den Hague. She started an education as kindergarten teachter but when the director of the school made avances her uncle took her away from the school. At the age of 18 she responded to an add int he papers, placed by Kaptain Rudolph MacLeod. She had a special interest for men in uniforms, quote: ‘To my opinion an officer is a higher begin, a hero constantly prepared to live adventures and endure danger’
MacLoad was member from the dutch branche of the Scottisch MacLeod family, he was 20 years older then Zelle and in later times painted as being drunk or lunatic, he wa also accused of making her live a living hell. The marriage with MacLeod was important for Zelle in two ways, she could enter the higher social classes of Den Hague and gained a financial stability. In 1897 the family moved to Dutch-Indië, by then they had a son Norman-John MacLeod and in 1998 their daughter Louise Jeanne MacLeod was born.
He also openly kept a concubine, a socially accepted practice in the Dutch East Indies at that time. The disenchanted Zelle abandoned him temporarily, moving in with Van Rheedes, another Dutch officer. For months, she studied the Indonesian traditions intensively, joining a local dance company. In 1897, she revealed her artistic name of Mata Hari, Malay (Indonesian as a standardized register did not exist in 1897) for “sun” (literally, “eye of the day”), in correspondence to her relatives in the Netherlands.
At MacLeod’s urging, Zelle returned to him, but his aggressive demeanour did not change. She escaped her circumstances by studying the local culture.In 1899, their children fell violently ill from complications relating to the treatment of syphilis contracted from their parents, though the family claimed they were poisoned by an irate servant. Jeanne survived, but Norman died. Some sources maintain that one of MacLeod’s enemies may have poisoned a supper to kill both of their children. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple officially separated on 30 August 1902. The divorce became final in 1906. Zelle was awarded custody of Jeanne. MacLeod was legally required to pay support, which he never did, making life very difficult for Zelle and her daughter. During a visit of Jeanne with her father, MacLeod decided not to return Jeanne to her mother. Zelle was forced to accept the situation, not having the resources to fight it, in the knowledge that whatever kind of husband MacLeod had been to her, he had always been a good father. Jeanne later died at the age of 21, also possibly from complications relating to syphilis.
In 1903, Zelle moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod, much to the disapproval of the Dutch MacLeods. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist’s model. By 1905, Mata Hari began to win fame as an exotic dancer. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 20th century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write about this and other such movements within the context of Orientalism. Gabriel Astruc became her personal booking agent.
Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, Mata Hari captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimet on 13 March 1905. She became the long-time mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet, who had founded the Musée. She posed as a Javanese princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so. Some of these pictures were obtained by MacLeod and strengthened his case in keeping custody of their daughter.
Mata Hari brought a carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head.She was seldom seen without a bra as she was self-conscious about being small-breasted. She wore a bodystocking for her performances that was similar in color to her own skin.Although Mata Hari’s claims about her origins were fictitious, it was very common for entertainers of her era to invent colorful stories about their origins as part of the show. Her act was successful because it elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status and so broke new ground in a style of entertainment for which Paris was later to become world-famous. Her style and free-willed attitude made her a popular woman, as did her eagerness to perform in exotic and revealing clothing.
She posed for provocative photos and mingled in wealthy circles. Since most Europeans at the time were unfamiliar with the Dutch East Indies, Mata Hari was thought of as exotic, and it was assumed her claims were genuine. Mata Hari’s career went into decline after 1912. On 13 March 1915, she performed in what would be the last show of her career. She had begun her career relatively late for a dancer, and had started putting on weight. However, by this time she had become a successful courtesan, known more for her sensuality and eroticism than for her beauty. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders. Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress.
To read more about her being a spy which lead to her execution in 1917 visit Wikipedia
- Exotic dancer Mata Hari leans on a table in this undated photo. Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, she was executed in 1917, during World War I, on charges of spying for Germany. Location of the photo is unknown. (AP Photo)
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