Blanche d'Antigny

Blanche d'Antigny (May 9, 1840 – June 30, 1874) was a French singer, actress and courtesan[1] whose fame today rests chiefly on the fact that Émile Zola used her as the principal model for his novel Nana.[2][3]

Blanche d'Antigny
Penitent Magdalene by Baudry, the model was Blanche d'Antigny
Marie Ernestine Antigny

(1840-05-09)May 9, 1840
Martizay, France
DiedJune 30, 1874(1874-06-30) (aged 34)


Blanche d'Antigny was born Marie Ernestine Antigny in Martizay, France.[4] Her father, Jean Antigny, was the sacristan at a local church.[5] At age 14 she ran off to Bucharest with a lover[6] whom she then abandoned for some gypsies. On her return to Paris she worked in the circus and in various dance halls. She also posed for Paul Baudry for his painting The Penitent Madeleine.[4] She became the mistress of the Russian police chief Mesentzov who took her to St. Petersburg[7] and, when she was forced to leave Russia by special order of the Tsarina, to Wiesbaden.[4]

When she set it into her head to become a star on the operetta stage,[7] everything happened exactly as Zola would later describe it in Nana:[8] She was an immediate success on the stage and attracted scores of wealthy lovers.[9] Hervé brought her out as Frédégonde in Chilpéric (1868) and went on stage himself to play Faust to her Marguerite in his masterpiece Le petit Faust (1869), a brilliant parody of both Goethe's play and Gounod's opera.[10] Blanche d'Antigny went on to play the leading roles in many of the hits of Hervé, Offenbach, and their disciples (Le tour du chien vert, L'œil crevé, La Vie parisienne, La Cocotte aux œufs d'or, etc. etc.) between 1870 and 1873. Her lovers showered her with gifts and spent enormous sums of money on her, but she was unable to hold on to any of it.

After a scandal caused by the financial ruin of one of her lovers, she thought it better to leave Paris for a while. She went to Egypt where she appeared on the stage in Cairo[4] and also had an affair with the Khedive. When she was asked why she had taken along to Cairo not only her chambermaid but also her coachman although she had neither horses nor a coach there, she is reported to have answered: What the hell! I owe Augustine twenty thousand francs, and Justin thirty-five thousand; they wouldn't let me go without them! She returned from this tour infected with typhoid fever and died.[4] Blanche d'Antigny is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.[4]


  1. Ditmore 2006, p. 555.
  2. Blyth 1970, p. 96.
  3. Richardson 1978, p. 78.
  4. "Blanche d'Antigny". Les Amis du Vieux Martizay. 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  5. Fryer 2005, p. 23.
  6. Price 1998, p. 16.
  7. Nagelkerke 2012, p. 13.
  8. González 2014, pp. 375–390.
  9. Houbre 2006, p. 59.
    • Dubé, Paul; Jacques Marchioro. "Paulus - Mémoires". Du Temps des cerises aux Feuilles mortes. Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2019.


  • Blyth, Henry (1970). Skittles: the last Victorian courtesan: the life and times of Catherine Walters. Hart-Davis. ISBN 9780246640178.
  • Ditmore, Melissa Hope (2006). Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313329708.
  • Fryer, Paul (2005). The Opera Singer and the Silent Film. McFarland. ISBN 9780786420650.
  • González, Julia Martínez (2014). "Sin límites entre el ángel y el monstruo: Naná y Sabine en la novela de Émile Zola". Thélème: Revista complutense de estudios franceses (in Spanish). 29 (2). ISSN 1139-9368.
  • Houbre, Gabrielle (2006). "Courtesans under surveillance". Le livre des courtisanes: archives secrètes de la police des moeurs, 1861-1876 (in French). Tallandier. ISBN 9782847343441.
  • Nagelkerke, Nico J. D. (2012). Courtesans and Consumption. Eburon Uitgeverij B.V. ISBN 9789059726031.
  • Price, David (1998). Cancan!. Cygnus Arts. ISBN 9780838638200.
  • Richardson, Joanna (1978). Zola. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Vauzat, Guy (1933). Blanche d'Antigny, actrice et demi-mondaine 18401874. Paris: Charles Bosse.
  • Zola, Émile (1972). Nana. translated with an introduction by George Holden,. London: Penguin Classics.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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