'Woman Bitten by a Snake'

Photo: Rama

Some families are snake-bitten – they feud constantly. That was certainly the case with George Sand, her son Maurice and daughter Solange, and her soon-to-be-ex-lover Chopin, and it sucked in visiting friends like Delacroix.

The most notable crisis was in May of 1847 when Solange married Auguste Clésinger, a sculptor and painter who became famous at the Paris Salon at this time for the scandalous Woman Bitten by a Snake (Femme piquée par un serpent). The model was courtesan Apollonie Sabatier, but it almost could have been Solange since she always seemed snake-bitten. Their story was not a happy one.

The sculpture itself – now in a prominent spot in the Musee d'Orsay - made a lasting impression because of its racy sensuality and break from classical tradition. Although the woman is said to be writhing from a snake bite (there is a tiny snake on her other arm), contemporary critics and members of the public had no doubt she was writhing from something else and struggled to find ways of addressing that.