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Mademoiselle Lange

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Mademoiselle Lange

Anne Françoise Élisabeth Lange (17 September 1772 – 25 May 1816, Florence) was a French actress of the Comédie-Française and a 'Merveilleuse' of the French Directory. Her stage name was Mademoiselle Lange.

Life

She was born in Genoa, the daughter of Charles-Antoine Lange (or L'Ange) and Marie-Rose Pitrot, itinerant musicians and actors putting on shows right across Europe. She thus made her stage debut very young in child roles in her parents' companies. In 1776, the family was taken on at the theatre at Liège,[1] and in 1784, they found themselves taken on at the theatre in Ghent. In 1787, Mlle Lange was taken on at the theatre at Tours in Marguerite Brunet's company.

On 2 October 1788, she made her official debut at the Comédie-Française in the role of Lindane in L'Écossaise by Voltaire.[1] She next played Lucinde in L'Oracle by Saint-Foix. In 1791, the production of the anti-religious and anti-monarchical play Charles IX by Marie-Joseph Chénier divided the company of the Théâtre-Français, with Mlle Lange joining the "patriots" group under Talma, which set itself up at rue de Richelieu (the present home of the Comédie-Française). However, thinking her talents were not being fully recognized there, she quickly moved to the "aristocrats" faction that had set itself up at the Théâtre du Faubourg Saint-Germain (renamed the Théâtre de la Nation, now known as the Théâtre de l'Odéon).

On 24 February 1793, she played Laure in Le Vieux Célibataire by Jean-François Collin d'Harleville, becoming a sociétaire later that year. She had a triumph in the eponymous role in Paméla ou la Vertu récompensée (Pamela or Virtue Rewarded) by Nicolas-Louis François de Neufchâteau,[2] setting a fashion for straw hats known as "à la Paméla", but the play's royalist overtones led to this theatre being shut down and the author and actors arrested by the Committee of Public Safety.

Mlle Lange was at first imprisoned in the prison de Sainte-Pélagie until, after a few months in captivity, she managed to arrange her transfer to the pension Belhomme (along with her cook, her valet and her lady's maid). There she was able to maintain a large household thanks to funds from the banker Montz, filling the street outside with those coming to visit her. She also bought a hôtel particulier on rue Saint-Georges.

In the wake of a denunciation, Fouquier-Tinville opened an enquiry which led to the arrest of Jacques Belhomme and the closure of the pension Belhomme. Mlle Lange returned to prison, but her friends in high places helped her to evade the guillotine. She was freed after 9th Thermidor and rejoined her fellow actors at the Théâtre Feydeau. She continued to live the high life under the Directory, having a liaison with lord Lieuthraud, supplier to the armies of the republic. He housed her at the hôtel de Salm, one of the houses he had acquired, and maintained her there on an allowance said to be 10,000 livres a day. She was also the mistress of a rich banker from Hamburg, Hoppé, bearing him a daughter, Anne-Élisabeth Palmyre, who was recognized by her father in 1795. It is improbable, however, that she had an affair with Barras as is claimed in the libretto of the famous operetta by Charles Lecocq, La Fille de madame Angot, in which Mlle Lange appears in a secondary role.

Her final lover was Michel-Jean Simons, a Belgian supplier to the French army, with whom she had a son in December 1797. Simons recognized their son and married Mlle Lange, making her Madame Simons and putting an end to her theatrical career (she reappeared only for a few performances in 1807). Ruined, Simons died in 1810 in his château de Bossey in Switzerland. Widowed, she assumed a solitary life in obscurity and far from her admirers until her death.

Portraits

Mlle Lange was at the centre of a famous scandal which provoked Girodet to paint her in the guise of Danae. The actress had not liked a first portrait that she had asked him to withdraw from the Paris Salon of 1799, and so Girodet avenged himself by sending it back to her torn and exhibiting the painting of her as Danae in its place at the Salon. It was painted in only a few days, and openly shows her as a prostitute; nude, she gathers gold pieces in a sheet and is accompanied by a turkey with peacock feathers (symbolizing her husband Simons) and a grotesque mask (with the features of her lover Leuthraud, and a gold piece stuck in its eye socket). This painting is now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Other portraits of her include:

  • Colson, Mademoiselle Lange as Sylvie in Collet's play "L'Île déserte", oil on canvas, 1793, Paris, Comédie-Française, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1793.
  • Lefebvre, Mme Simons, née Lange.

Sources

  • J. Vincent, La belle Mademoiselle Lange (Elisabeth Simons-Lange, 1772 — ca. 1825). Paris: Hachette, 1932

References

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