sitter: irene castle


“When the ballroom dancer Irene Castle—who with her husband, Vernon, was a major WWI-era pop star—impetuously decides to bob her hair in 1914, it was the snip heard round the world. It would take a decade or so, but long, lovely tresses—previously largely the mark of a lady’s allure—eventually hit the cutting room floor, and the lightness and liberation of a free woman’s costume was reflected above her neck as well.”


Illustration by Helen Dryden, Vogue, June 1, 1919


This majestic and otherworldly oil-on-board by the New York illustrator A.D. Rahn is a reflection on the decadence of the Broadway stage circa 1915. A beautiful and haughty blonde, whose bobbed hair and dropped waist gown evoke Irene Castle, is seen emerging from backstage with the help of a green imp, her own high minded attitude is captured by the halo that surrounds her. Holding a small dog in another nod to Castle, who was notorious for taking her pets (including a monkey) on publicity tours with her, this original illustration evokes the almost superhuman power stars held, while suggesting the dark underworld dangers of a life on stage for beautiful women.