Wagner – public genius with a private passion for bustles, bows and bodices (Guardian)

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
The Guardian

A previously unpublished letter by Richard Wagner to a firm of Milanese couturiers offers the intriguing possibility that the great composer was, in fact, a cross-dresser.The letter is published for the first time today in the inaugural edition of the Wagner Journal. In it, the composer of the Ring des Nibelungen details the cut of an outfit, ostensibly intended for his wife, Cosima.

Requesting “something graceful for evenings at home” he continues: “The bodice will have a high collar, with a lace jabot and ribbons; close-fitting sleeves; the dress trimmed with puffed flounces – of the same satin material – no basque at the front (the dress must be very wide and have a train) but a rich bustle with a bow at the back, like the one at the front) …”He concludes: “And so: richness of the material, width, ruches, flounces, bustles, ribbons – all to the good: but none of those basques attached by means of pins etc”.

According to Barry Millington, co-editor of the Wagner Journal, the letter, dating from January 1874 and now in a private collection in the US, “adds weight to the theory that the composer exhibited the tendencies of a cross-dresser”. At the very least, he suggests, it points to an extremely detailed, if not fetishistic, interest in the minutiae of ladies’ apparel.

“He obviously had a very pronounced feminine side,” said Mr Millington. “There was this whole business with silks and satin underwear: he had to wear silk next to his skin, ostensibly because he suffered from erypsipelas” – an infection whose symptoms include painful skin-rashes.
Rumours about his proclivities circulated during his lifetime. His disciple, Hans von Wolzogen, who published a guide to the Leitmotifs in the Ring, recalled that Wagner had once appeared dressed in a lady’s jacket. Another anecdote recounted that Wagner had escaped from his creditors in Vienna in 1864 dressed in women’s clothes. (more…)

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One thought on “Wagner – public genius with a private passion for bustles, bows and bodices (Guardian)

  1. I’m not really surprised. Most exceptional artists are different than the common person (such as myself) and that can manifest itself in various forms, such as Van Gogh and self mutilation.

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