Laughing Torso by Nina Hamnett (& a misunderstanding)

published 1932  chapter 7

Constance and I sat in front of the fire and talked and got on very well indeed. I had known a cousin of hers who had been killed. She was a most charming and interesting woman and my dreary existence was cheered up by her company. As Edgar neglected me a good deal I spent most of my time with her. She had a marvellous figure and danced with not much more on than a tiger skin before the War, and even then this was considered most shocking, and when she appeared at the Palace Theatre there was a terrible disturbance.

I painted a portrait of Constance. [When it was exhibited] all kinds of grand people… flocked to my portrait, expecting to see an almost nude woman. They were bitterly disappointed, and Constance and I laughed.

observations: Another visit to a favourite book of recent weeks. 

Hamnett painted her friend wearing Arab robes to surprise the public. Constance sounds lovely – she features quite a lot more, partying in Chelsea and enjoying herself with Nina, a bit of a good-time girl. But actually she was Lady Constance Stewart Richardson (Hamnett says Stuart, but Stewart seems to be correct), the daughter of a Scottish Earl, and it seems – and the photo suggests - that her dancing was more serious than Nina implies, more Isadora Duncan than pole-dancer.

Meanwhile. Nearly a dire mistake – when I first read that description of Constance I thought ‘there’s an image just like that’ and dug it out from the Library of Congress (a source of great photos). And although it was leopard skin rather than tiger, it seemed the perfect picture:

But then a bit more research revealed that it was a Greek dancer called Iolaus, and that he was a man. One of my erudite regular readers would surely have caught me out. It is more obvious in this picture of him:

--- and there is a review in the New York Times (Feb 1913) saying
Iolaus, a well-formed youth as could easily be seen, was well-liked in a series of dances.
I’ll bet. He appeared with Violet Romer ‘an American actress, dancer and flapper.’

The top photo is Lady Constance, and is here at the Library of Congress: Iolaus here and here.

To find more Nina Hamnett, click on the label below.


  1. Hamnett's picture here, and an emotional account of her life in French:

    1. I've been fascinated by her since reading the book - I like the webpage, and the pics (including Constance from the extract above) and even I with my limited French could manage to read the words!

  2. Hammett does sound like a really interesting person! And actually so does Lady Constance. As I read your post, I was thinking that we don't have the focus on that sort of serious dancing (e.g. Isadora Duncan) that we used to have. Or perhaps I'm missing it. Interesting social phenomenon...

    1. Yes that's a good point - there's no-one with that kind of reputation today is there? Like you, I'm wondering why not.

  3. Moira, not one for me thanks. I know I'm trying to push the envelope a bit, but....

    1. Go on - put those lightly-dressed sexy dancers into a dark smoky nightclub and you've got yourself some noir... but still, maybe not for you....


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