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A Bat

WhistlerBat

The French Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac (1855-1921), poet and aesthete, was an aristocratic descendent of D'Artagnan of Three Musketeers fame and the inspiration of Proust's character Baron de Charlus.

On July 3rd, 1885, at the invitation of Henry James, Montesquiou met the artist James McNeill Whistler at the Reform Club in London, and later asked Whistler to paint his portrait. Just as Whistler used the butterfly as his personal emblem, Montesquiou adopted the bat and kept one as a pet in a lacquer cage in his Paris apartment.

From 1891 to 1892 Whistler painted Montesquiou's portrait. Montesquiou in return wrote a poem in Whistler's honor titled Moth, first published in his 1892 book of poems, Les chauves-souris: clair-obscurs.

For the second, 1893 edition of Les chauves-souris, Montesquiou selected a Whistler drawing of a bat for lithographic reproduction in black. The artist's signature butterfly can be seen beneath the moon in this image. A copy of this second edition containing the image is held in the Freer-Sackler Library's Paul Marks Special Collection of materials related to Whistler.—Mike Smith

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