Women with cigarettes in the Belle Époque

Women with cigarettes in the Belle Époque

  • Chausey Islands, three women smoking on the deck of the boat.


  • Madame Georges Hugo, full face, toque and cigarette.

    HELLEU Paul César (1859 - 1927)

To close

Title: Chausey Islands, three women smoking on the deck of the boat.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 12.2 - Width 8.5

Technique and other indications: Proof on aristotype paper, circa 1899-1900, collection of the Menier family.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 09-568622 / PHO1986-1-129-176

Chausey Islands, three women smoking on the deck of the boat.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Madame Georges Hugo, full face, toque and cigarette.

Author : HELLEU Paul César (1859 - 1927)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 34 - Width 32

Storage location: Bonnat Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 04-500284 / CMNI2974

Madame Georges Hugo, full face, toque and cigarette.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: September 2011

Professor of contemporary history IUFM and Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1.Head of University for all, Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne.

Historical context


The period before the Great War is considered a golden age. By their outfit and with their leisure activities, his women set the tone for all of society and mark the time: parties, seaside seasons, more or less literary salons, are linked throughout the year and in a movement to appear. that accelerates the development of media that say fashion and celebrities.

Image Analysis

The new woman smoke

Queen Victoria died in 1901, and the whole stiff bourgeois generation disappeared with her. The 20-year-old woman of the 1900s - of course we only speak of a wealthy elite - is decidedly "modern". This modernity goes through the adoption and putting in the mouth of a funny little cylinder of tobacco, the "cigarette". Manufactured by the machines of the industrial revolution since the 1870s, offered by the Régie des Tabacs in "bungs" of twenty modules of various tobacco (American, French, Levantine), cigarettes have already won the esteem of male consumers when the women of good society adopted it in the 1900s.

Sailing off the Channel Islands, these ladies practice the latest fashionable "sport", yachting (the English Yachting Club dates from 1815). Dressed in white like the members of the crew, they adopted an outfit that was both elegant and convenient: boater, blouse, bolero, fitted skirt. They are part of the rich family of Menier chocolate makers. While the three brothers Henri, Gaston, and Albert develop the factory in Noisiel (Seine-et-Marne), their ladies and young ladies take pleasure in the sea. They taste the air, the sun, freedom, cigarette in hand or on the lips.

Sketched by Paul César Helleu, a dandy who is also a yachting enthusiast and a great portrait painter of young bourgeois women, Mme Georges Hugo poses on a sofa. Granddaughter of Frédéric Dorian, industrialist and Minister of the Republic, she married the grandson of Victor Hugo. Short hair, little round hat, boots and gloves, fitted jacket with wide collar and puffed sleeves, she looks at the viewer with real class insolence. The drawing is strangely reminiscent of The lioness with blue hydrangeas or theElegant in hat, and even Mrs Helleu on her yacht, the Star, all paintings by the same fashionable painter. The cigarette she wears in her mouth confirms this vanity and objectivizes her audacity.


The carelessness of the Belle Époque ceased a few years later. The golden age ends with war. But feminine outfits, more comfortable and more practical, will remain, this time to facilitate travel and work. Cigarettes, hitherto an object of pleasure and rest, will begin a career of support for work and social relaxation.

  • bourgeoisie
  • women
  • tobacco


Christine BARD, Women in French Society in the Twentieth Century, Paris, Armand Colin, 2001 Kate CAMBOR, Belle Époque, Paris, Flammarion, 2009. Marylène DELBOURG-DELPHYS, Le Chic et le look, History of women's fashion and manners from 1850 to the present day, Paris, Hachette, 1981 Dominique LEJEUNE, La France de la Belle Époque (1896-1914), Paris, Armand Colin, 2011 (6th edition) Didier NOURRISSON, Cigarette, History of a tease, Paris, Payot, 2010.

To cite this article

Didier NOURRISSON, "Women with cigarettes in the Belle Époque"

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