c. 1905-191Mata HariDancer, courtesan, scapegoat, spy?

by Alex Q. Arbuckle

c. 1905

IMAGE: HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never! I have always lived for love and pleasure.
MATA HARI

Born in 1876 in the Netherlands, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle married an affluent Dutch Colonial Army captain at the age of 18. In 1897, she moved with him to the island of Java, where they had two children.

Her husband was an abusive and resentful alcoholic. To distract herself from the unhappiness of her marriage, Zelle buried herself in the study of Indonesian culture and traditions, including dance.

The marriage slowly deteriorated, and after returning to the Netherlands, the couple separated in 1902. Zelle moved to Paris, where she found work as a circus equestrian, artist’s model and exotic dancer.

Capitalizing on the growing fad for “Oriental” performances, Zelle adopted the stage name Mata Hari — Malay for “eye of the day” or “sun” — and concocted an elaborate fictional persona. She claimed to be an Indonesian princess trained in exotic rituals and Hindu dances.

She combined her appropriated aesthetic with her own bawdy sense of confidence and promiscuity, performing elaborate striptease dances which made her an instant sensation.

1906

IMAGE: WALERY/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

1906

IMAGE: WALERY/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

1906

IMAGE: WALERY/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

1906

IMAGE: WALERY/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

c. 1905

IMAGE: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/GETTY IMAGES

1907

IMAGE: COLLECTION BOURGERON/RDA/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

c. 1905

IMAGE: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/GETTY IMAGES

c. 1905

IMAGE: MONDADORI PORTFOLIO/GETTY IMAGES

FULL STORY AND MORE PICTURES AT Retromout
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