The moving life of Mata Hari

Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body……..Mata Hari (1876 – 1917) 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.

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