True love

Caresse and Harry Crosby lived a life of utter dissolution off Harry’s inheritance which, when it ran out, had to be supplemented by telegrams to his banker father such as the infamous, “PLEASE SELL 10,000 WORTH OF STOCK. WE HAVE DECIDED TO LIVE A MAD AND EXTRAVAGANT LIFE”. They madly loved each other and although their glamorous and luxurious lifestyle soon included an open marriage, Caresse was his true love that he would never leave.

True love (2022)

Harry, who witnessed gruesome scenes and traumatic experiences in World War One as an ambulance driver, most probably suffered from PTSD. He began to grow nutty. He was possessed by worship of the Sun, by opium, by danger, by the impulse to make extravagant gestures, by sexual mania, by visions of a desired death. He believed in his own idealizations of suicide. To his wife Caresse he had proposed suicide pacts on several occasions since early in their relationship, the only question being, when was the right moment. 

Crosby contrived a pretentious, ramshackle scheme of sunworship, complete with homemade rites and accouterments, like the sun tattoos on his back and right foot, his daily prayers to the sun, obsessive nude sunbathing and solar masturbation. He painted his fingernails black and furnished his flat with bones and skulls. “I ponder death more frequently than I do any other subject,” he wrote in a notebook. The couple cared little for the future, spent their money recklessly, and never tried to live on a budget. This was in part because they had pledged a mutual suicide pact, in which they planned on October 31, 1942, when the earth would be closest to the sun in several decades, to jump out of an airplane together. This was to be followed by cremation and dispersal by another airplane.

But on December 11th, 1929, in a New York hotel room, Crosby was found dead in bed. It was not Caresse, but his mistress Josephine Rotch Bigelow with a bullet hole to her left temple, a bullet hole to his right temple, his right hand holding a .25 caliber pistol, his free hand joined in Josephine’s. In his diary his last sentence was: 

“One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved. There is only one happiness – it is to love and to be loved.”

Besides the sadness of the loss of her great love, to Caresse this must have felt as betrayal. She had never been in favor of the suicide pact, but she could never imagine he would select someone else to carry out the plan.

On the painting we see two people on something that could refer as a love seat. The exciting cocktail in front of them is in fact the poison cup which, by drinking it, offers a way out of earthly life. The snake symbolizes healing and transformation.

Never no’ was the motto of Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacob; April 20, 1892 – January 24, 1970) and is the title of a series of paintings inspired by her life. She was the inventor of the modern bra, but somehow that was only a minor detail in her extravagant life. She was a notorious figure in 1920s Paris, embracing the bohemian life with indulgences like booze, opium and wild parties. She was the patron to the literary Lost Generation, moved in the highest artistic circles (Dali, Picasso), owned a castle, but unfortunately her story has been largely forgotten.