Vivien, Reneé

BORN 8 Jun 1877, London: Paddington - DIED 18 Nov 1909, Paris
BIRTH NAME Tarn, Pauline Mary
CAUSE OF DEATH alcoholism and anorexia
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Passy Cimetière, 2 Rue du Commandant Schloesing (division 13)

Daughter of an American mother and a Scottish father. She grew up in New York, Paris and London. When she was nine her father died and her mother returned with her from Paris to England. She even tried to declare her daughter insane to get her hands on her money. But the court in England protected Pauline (her real name) and when she was 21 she permanently moved to Paris.

In Paris she was notorious for her dress, her poems and most of all for being openly lesbian. At first she wrote in English, later in French. Her lifelong obsession for her childhood friend Violette Shillito remained unconsumated, but she had widely published affairs with Natalie Barney and Helene von Zuylen de Nyeveld (born Helene de Rothschild, their affair started in 1901). She loved fresh flowers and she especially loved violets because they reminded her of her friend, who died in 1901. She was called 'Muse of Violets' by others.

She was financially well off and her apartment was filled with furniture and art from the Far East. She had travelled to Egypt and China. She had even attempted to start a colony for lesbian poets at Lesbos together with Natalie Barney, but when she was in Greece Helene came to her to 'reclaim her'. Her relationship with Helene started in 1901 and ended when Helene broke it off in 1906.

Her luxerious lifestyle left her deeply in debt by 1908 and she tried to kill herself in London by drinking an overdose of laudanum. She survived, but suffered from pleurisy and back in Paris she had to walk with a cane. The pleurisy, in combination with drinking heavily and starving herself proved fatal: she died in 1909. Nathalie Barney came to visit her, only to hear that 'mademoiselle had just died'.

Her admirer Salomon Reinach seems to have locked up her papers in the Biliothèque Nationale in Paris to hide her lesbian habits from the public and protect her name as a poet. But her work was already outdated when she wrote it because symbolism had peaked twenty years before. She soon faded into obscurity and only in the 1970s her work was published in English.

Works: "Du Vert Du Violet" (1903); "M'Apparut" (1904); "A L'Heure Des Mains Jointes" (1906).

Related persons
• was the lover of Barney, Natalie Clifford
• was sculpted by Rodin, Auguste


Bust of Renée Vivien at the Musée Rodin in Paris.
Picture by Androom (23 May 1999)


The mausoleum of Renée Vivien at Passy Cimetière, Paris.
Picture by Androom (21 May 1999)


• Souhami, Diana, Wild Girls, The Love Life of Natalie Barney & Romaine Brooks, Phoenix, London, 2005
Winkler Prins Encyclopedie (editie 1909), 1909
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Vízvári, Mariska

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 25 Apr 2022