Let’s be honest: Not all of us have good taste. But — thank God and natural selection — there are people that have fantastic taste who keep the world spinning round. And keep people like me from jumping off of a bridge.
One of those people was Misia Sert.
Imagine if Hilary Clinton were a sex-bomb who had several husbands, lovers, experimental friendships, and a drug addiction. And supreme sway over high culture, art, and aesthetic opinion.
That was Misia Sert. Or maybe she was more like Beyoncé with Anna Wintour, and a hint of Gaga.
Whatever. There is no combination that can add up to the biggest baddest slice o’ ass that was MISIA SERT.
Listen. This is how I spend my free time. I saw that the Musée d’Orsay was having a special exhibit on Misia Sert and I wanted to know why I didn’t know who Misia Sert was. Because I know everything about everyone.
Turns out I don’t know anyone and Misia Sert knew EVERYONE. She probably knew me before I was even born. Probably not, because she infamously only gave you the time of day if you were incredibly gifted. Aka, if you didn’t matter, she did not give a single fuck.
Let me give you an idea of the people Misia liked to chill with: Chanel, Debussy, Diagheliv, Stravinsky, Monet, Proust, Renoir, Redon, Mallarmé, Toulouse-Lautrec, the list goes on. (SPOILER ALERT: She most likely slept with about half of them. The other half fantasized.)
Misia was born on March 30, 1872. I just spent five minutes googling what the hell happened in 1872 only to decide the most important thing was probably that this bitch was brought into the world. Her mother died in childbirth (sad) and her Dad sent her away to live with relatives, and then sent her to a convent boarding school.
Sidenote: Misia’s mother was traveling to surprise her father when she found him living with his mistress, right before she died giving birth. What a dick. (I know, double standard, Misia is a bad-ass if she has extra-marital affairs and her dad is a douche. I don’t pretend to be unbiased here.)
Also, when she was living with her grandparents in Brussels, their close family friend was Liszt. Remember that guy? So now you understand the kind of bar that was set for Misia at a young age.
Skip ahead to Misia’s 21st year on the earth. She decides to marry her cousin (maybe after taking 21 shots? who knows). His name was Thadée Natanson. With this marriage she started a trend of, as this rather eloquent book review put it, taking husbands rather than lovers. Marriage is the new one-night stand. What a trendsetter.
Thadée ran La revue blanche with his brothers, which was more or less The Paris Review of the day. It also gave her an excuse to throw swanky parties and socialize with the who’s who – schmooze and talk about art, make multi-colored mixed drinks (bartended by Toulouse-Lautrec), experiment with drugs, and pass the fuck out. Misia once had a party in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Girl knew how to have a good time.
So shit got a little fucked, as shit is bound to do. Thadée needed some moolah to run his little literary operation, and Alfred Edwards — a big name in the paper biz — gave him the money under one condition: He got some one-on-one time with Miss Misia. GROSS. Reminds me of this last season of Mad Men, for all y’all who know what I’m sayin’.
Misia ends up MARRYING Edwards (VOMIT) but it’s okay because he’s filthy rich and she continues to be trendy, famous, and the adored subject of painting and poetry at the time. I guess Renoir was desperate to paint her topless, but she wouldn’t let him because her husband was in the next room. Respect.
SO Edwards ended up cheating on Misia (saw that one coming) and Misia doesn’t put up with dat kinda bullsheeeeet so she peaced and shortly after married the prominent Spanish painter José-Maria Sert. Although she was quoted saying that Sert was the only man to truly please her in the boudoir, their marriage was a bit of a mess (a tumultuous relationship with a Spaniard? stop it).
I will say that this specific tumult was kinda kinky. Sert was involved with a member of the Russian Mdivani family, Princess Isabelle Roussadana Mdivana, or “Roussy.” And we all know what rhymes with Roussy. Anyhow, Misia got a little pissy, and then — either out of a desire for revenge or out of sheer curiosity — she decides to take a ride on the Roussy wagon too. Before you know it (and we knew it), Roussy, Misia, and Sert had a little ménage á trois going on.
A little bit later (this is an abridged history, okay?) Misia strikes up a close friendship with none other than COCO FUCKING CHANEL. Supposedly they were only super good friends that shared their emotions and got drunk and fucked up, but who believes that really.
Maybe real historians, but I guess what I’m getting at is I’m not a real historian.
MORAL: Improve your social life. Fast. To feel better about yourself.
Let’s play a game I use to in lieu of flirting because I don’t know how to talk to men as a result of my crippling social ineptitude, shall we? It will be SOFUCKINGFUN. It’s called “Think of All the Austrian Luminaries of the Early Twentieth Century You Can,” and you win if you: a) don’t immediately run away; and b) can name more than three. Okay, ready? GO!
Sorry, what was that? “You’re fucking weird?”
Well, fair enough.
But just for funsies, let’s pretend you instead said:
“CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, MRG. There was Gustav Mahler, of course, that prolific composer. Oh, and obviously Walter Gropius, head of the Bauhaus School and therefore one of the most important architects of all times. Let’s see…ah, yes, Oscar Kokoschka, the expressionist painter and namesake of the best character on “Hey Arnold.” How many do I need to win your love again? Four? OH DUH, how could I forget Gustav Klimt, painter of sexy shiny blocky nipple paintings, especially that kiss one that’s been culturally ravaged? I WIN! COOL GAME, MRG! Let’s do ‘Top Five Favorite Medieval Flemish Painters’ next!”
Now, obviously this isn’t a game that I actually play. But it’s worth noting that in this hypothetical situation, I would probably definitely already be handing you my bra and mumbling, “HANS MEMLING.”
This is all a very convoluted way of revealing the exceptionally badass subject of today’s post. I should tell you up front that I’m nursing a massive ladycrush on her for a lot of reasons, mainly because she coincidentally (not coincidentally) BANGED ALL FOUR OF THOSE REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT AUSTRIAN GUYS. AND MORE.
Alma Mahler (which I’m sure you, like me, keep reading as alma mater and it’s totally bothering you) lived through a great fucking period in intellectual history. She was born Alma Schindler in late 19th-century Vienna to a famous landscape painter and his operetta-singing wife. And when her artist dad died, her operamom married Carl Moll, who was a co-founder of the Vienna Secession, which was not this kind of secession, but the kind where painters and sculptors and architects hang out and form a new artistic movement together. Once, when LHB and I were abroad and in Vienna for a couple days, we walked right past their headquarters a couple times and said, “Cool Art Nouveau churchy thing, or whatever” and had no idea what we were looking at. Good historically uninformed times.
So what with the artistic genes and the historical/cultural context, Alma couldn’t help but blossom into a certifiable dime-plus-ninety-nine. Also, she was totally serving that 1890s girlishdoll/ladymirth realness that people loved so much back then:
Because stepdad Carl was so involved in the Secession, and because of her aforementioned hotness, Alma flirted, HARD, with lots of important artists, and they sure-as-shit flirted back, laying the foundation for a life of bounteous boning. She was such a great slampiece to so many great men, in fact, that I’m going to have break it down list-style.
WARNING: There were A LOT of sexytimes and therefore A LOT of words follow. I recommend you take a snacks-on-snacks break after every three list items. Don’t ever say I don’t care about your comfort.
1. Gustav Klimt was elected president of the Secession (to Carl Moll’s VP, AWKWAAAARD) in 1897 when Alma was seventeen and he was thirty-five. He was a noted seducer of inappropriately younger ladies, and she was just old enough to start understanding Cosmo’s more directive articles. So of course they fucked. And really, if you’re going to lose your virginity (unconfirmed, but come on) to anyone, shouldn’t it be the caftan-wearing artist friend of the family?
Alma kept diaries during this time but had obviously never watched and learned from Harriet the Spy, because her opera-singing mother found the journal. I imagine that, upon reading the parts where Alma described (in vivid detail, apparently – attagirl) their series of copulation sensations, her mom went apeshit to the tune of “The Magic Flute.” In any case, Klimt was into Alma (LITERALLY) (but figuratively here) and followed the Molls on a family vacation to Italy to try and get a holiday handy or two. But mom and Carl got pissed, forced Gus to leave and never see Alma again, and things ended real quick.
2. In the meantime, Alma’s sexytimes had contributed immensely to her fledgiling studies as a composer/MC. She later said,
“Gustav Klimt entered my life as my first great love, but I was an innocent child, totally absorbed in my music and far removed from life in the real world. The more I suffered from this love, the more I sank into my own music, and so my unhappiness became a source of my greatest bliss.”
This symbiotic ass-helps-art relationship continued through Alma’s next tryst, this time with her music tutor, Alexander von Zemlinsky. The internet says that ol’ Al, though unsightly and kind of a noob, knew “how to arose [sic] Alma’s wakening sexuality with a passion which allowed her never to forget his »virtuoso hands«.” I don’t know what »virtuoso hands« are, but I want them. Maybe in the meantime there are special gloves or something I can use? I’ll look into it and get back to you.
Anyway, Al continues to use his Magical Bionic Sex Hands on young Alma for a couple of years — and he also teaches her how to look into her soul and compose music, or whatever — until all of Alma’s best girlfranz stage an intervention because Al was essentially penniless eye broccoli (Mom sang the breakup aria in the background).
3. This turned out to be a lucky break for Alma, as she met Gustav Mahler in 1901, shortly after dumping Alex the Footfaced. Mahler was the director of the Vienna Court Opera and therefore a big motherfucking deal in the local music scene, especially to an aspiring ladycomposer like our sweet little recognizer-of-sexually-advantageous-situations, Alma. Gus, for his part, wasn’t a slouch either. He was 41 to her 22, and he’d been down Sexy Straβe a few times himself. Enough times to know that when an ambitious and totally DTF ingenue comes your way, you gotta lock it up with a prenup.
Well, not an “I’m a celebrity marrying a golddigging Muggle” kind of prenup, but literally a prenuptial agreement that required that Alma give up her fledgling compositional career and commit to housewifery, because WOMEN, AM I RIGHT. And she signed that shit like she’d get legs, a prince, and a sunset seacruise wedding out of it. DAMMIT, ALMA! You were doing so well.
As Gustav became more and more successful, Alma held up her end of the gender-inequality-perpetuating bargain, popping out two girlchildren, having the schnitzel und spaetzel on the table by five every night, and completely abandoning her independent hopes and dreams. BUT SHE WAS STILL REALLY PRETTY, SO WHATEV.
4. “Whatev” sufficed until the elder Mahler daughter, Maria, died of scarlet fever in 1907 at five years old. Alma was understandably feeling a tish bit blue, so Gus, the prince, allowed her to take herself and that other girlbaby on a spa holiday at Tobelbad. Turned out to be a Tobel-BAD call on his part (nailed it), because while there, Alma met Walter Gropius and banged the shit out of him. And can you blame her? He was totally Deutschehot, in the process of inventing modern architecture, and was about to found the Bauhaus. Shit, I want to go back in time and fuck him myself.
Anyway, for all his talents and charms, Walt was kind of a dumbass and mailed a lube-soaked love letter to Alma. Why does that make him a dumbass? Oh, that’s right: HE FUCKING ADDRESSED IT TO HER FUCKING HUSBAND.
In a way, though, it sort of worked out in that when Gus found out about the affair he had an emotional crisis, realized that he had driven Alma into the arms (not »virtuoso arms«, but still) of a more appreciative man, and turned his anti-happywife campaign right the fuck around. He started allowing Alma to compose again and took an active interest in her music, even getting her published in 1910. But Alma was a shrewd and fickle sexual demigoddess who wanted her terrible husband to PAY. He died of an infection the following year, and I’m not saying she murdered him, but I’m not not saying that she was a magic voodoo priestess for ladyrights.
5. You may be thinking that this opened up the Marriage Canal for sweet Wally Gropius, and you’d be right. But Alma, as we have established, was the best. She knew what was up. She was totally hot and talented, and Wally would be Right There Waiting in a couple years, during which time she’d work on her music and play Susie Slampiece for a few more important Austrian men. Including Dr. Paul Kammerer, a biologist who developed some now-abandoned theory of trait inheritance. You know, “science” shit. He hired Alma as an assistant following Mahler’s voodoo death. So naturally she hit that. It was totes casual until Paul threatened to shoot himself on Mahler’s grave if Alma didn’t marry him. She was an artist consorting with a “scientist.” It was a dalliance. She said “That’s fucking weird.” He said, “Haha yeah you’re right I was just kidding (but I’M NOT KIDDING).” She said, “I’m going to fuck someone else now.”
6. That someone else was a one Mr. Oskar Kokoschka, future VIP of modern art history classes everywhere and a Secessionist painter. If the early-1900s Viennese expressionist art scene was a boy band, Oskar was the one with tattoos, nipple piercings, and a pirate-y goatee. He was the bad boy, reckless, violent, and always banging a new lady. Alma, therefore, had. to. hit. it. And demonstrating once again her highly evolved ladypowers, Alma was able to do what women across this green Earth only dream of doing — she tamed the badass. He basically worshipped her and painted her a lot, which was nice, but the side effect of The Taming of the Dude was he became extremely possessive of her. BOOM, she was outta there. Soon after their breakup, Oskar ordered a life size Alma doll from Munich (link is creepy as shit, FYI) made to her exact measurements, so you can imagine how things went for him until he experienced a kind of life-renaissance as the kooky, illiterate Eastern European lodger in a Brooklyn boarding house in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Also, I know you’re tired, I’m tired, this sexjourney is exhausting, but the Alma Train to Sexualcontentmenttown is just about to pull into the station.
4 (revisited). Alma had had enough of that whole mentally-unstable-lovers bag and gave sweet, patient Wally Gropius a well-deserved booty call. He was serving in WWI, but he still managed to consensually grope her and then really Grope her by becoming lucky Mr. Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius in 1915. Happy happy joy smiles, they had a daughter named Manon, love sunshine butterflies puppies. But then Manon died of polio 😦 and shit got real. Being Groped just wasn’t enough for Alma anymore, so she thought to herself, “What did I do last time my daughter died prematurely? Oh, that’s right…I TOOK A LOVER.”
7. Enter (again, LITERALLY) Franz Werfel, the novelist and poet whom Alma affectionately (not affectionately) called a “fat, bow-legged Jew with bulging lips.” Can’t fight a love like that. She became his muse and also ~*TWIST*~ his baby mama. This was a major WOOPSIE, as she was still married to dear Wally, who assumed that, upon the birth of little Martin Gropius, the kid was indeed his son. Soon, though, either Alma came clean or Wally got wise, but it ended up not mattering so much because little Marty caught some hard-to-spell disease and died at ten months. Which is extremely sad, but damn, Alma would have lost her head like three kids ago had she been living in Renaissance England, amiright?!
Wally was a good guy and knew that Alma was happier with Werfel, so he unGroped her in 1920, at which point she and Franz shacked up for nine years — Alma wouldn’t let him put a ring on it right away. Eventually she did, though, and they enjoyed relatively drama-free wedded bliss until those Nazi guys made it real hard for “fat, bow-legged Jews” like Franz (and also all of the Jews) to live in Vienna. They fled to Los Angeles by way of France and New York in 1938, where Werfel became extremely famous by turning his novel A Song for Bernadette into a big splashy Hollywood picture, and Alma by running a European-style social salon.
There we have it — the exhausting yet exhilarating love life of Mrs. Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel. She’d cooled her jets considerably by the time Franz died in 1946, and my fingers are tired from all of the typing, so I feel safe bringing the sexy portion of this post to a close.
I want to be her (except not dead). She fucked SO MANY artistic dudes while maintaining her own professional interests and never let shit like “vows of matrimony” or “morals” stop her from keeping her eyes on the dickprize. God love her.
No, it’s stupid.
Well…maybe…Alma Mahler, are you there? Are you…God? Sorry, Goddess?
Let us pray: Ladies, we must read, learn, and worship at the altar of Alma Mahler, for she hath willed it so through her coital miracles. Though ye be but mortal, Goddess Alma hath hereunto brought forth a path of girlcrushery, light, and truth, leaving you an aspirational example of hella diva swagger, that ye should follow in Her most enviable footsteps. For She hath trodden in unknowable dales of Austrian artist dick, and She hath conquered. She boned prolifically so that ye may be granted prolific boning. Amen. #nolesbo.