If you have ever visited Monte Carlo Casino, you probably noticed the “Florentine Graces” painted by Paul Gevrais. There is a reason this piece of art depicting famous courtesans decorates the Salle Blanche. It is no secret that Cléo de Mérode, La Belle Otéro and Liane de Pougy were regular visitors of the Monte Carlo Casino. Also known as Les Grandes Horizontales, they were famous along the French Riviera and warmly welcomed at the most popular casino of the Cote d’Azur.
On a February night in 1897, the stunning Carolina Otéro of Spain made her appearance in the Casino gambling rooms. She had not yet turned 30, but her fame swept through the world. She was a dancer at Les Folies Bergeres in Paris, touring around Europe, the United States and Russia. Many wealthy and powerful men lost their heads over her beauty. Her incredible dark eyes sparked duels between her lovers.
But that night Carolina was going to spend her fortune in the most prestigious gambling house of the French Riviera. “What does one come to Monte Carlo for, if not to lose?” she said. Every time she went to the casino, she adorned herself with precious gems from head to toe. There was danger of her rivals taking attention away from her.
In fact, the gamblers of Monte Carlo witnessed numerous “duels” between La Belle Otéro and Liane de Pougy. Aware of Otéro’s passion for jewellery, Mademoiselle de Pougy once appeared wearing a simple pink dress. However, she was then followed by her maid wearing all the mistress’s jewels. The gamblers couldn’t refrain from giggling. On that occasion La Belle Otero lost the duel.
By the end of her career, Carolina had gambled away most of her fortune in the Monte Carlo Casino. She lived out her days in a small apartment in Nice let by SBM as thanks for her loyalty.
It is believed that the casino prostitutes promoted themselves openly with the approval of the casino inspectors, who received bribes from the so-called demimondaines. They paraded between gaming tables wearing flashy clothes and high heels and flirting with gamblers. Theodor Dreiser described them as “evil, rather glorious and showy spiders spinning nets for none too satisfactory men… Interesting as spectacle, but worthless; weeds masquerading as true social flowers”.
At that time rumours circulated that the femmes fatales like Otéro or de Pougy were generously paid only for disrobing. It is said that the special room where the courtesans awaited their clients can still be found in the interior of the Monte Carlo Casino.
The SBM archives show that in those days the Monegasque police paid little attention to the prostitutes’ activity. On the contrary, they were an integral part of the casino. So next time you visit the Salle Blanche of the famous gambling establishment, pay attention to the “Florentine Graces” and remember the story hidden behind this painting.