This is possibly the best portrait by Manuel Benedito. Enrique Segura described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting portraits in the painting of our times – a model of what a great portrait should be”. Benedito himself must have considered it so, because he always kept it in his possession. In this portrait, the perfect coldness of the painter’s academicism is tinged with a serene mystery unusual in him: the languid slenderness of the figure, the almost absolute lack of beautifying accessories in her clothing and the glazes that shade the outlines give this work an almost imperceptible trace of the Symbolism that is already in decline. The sitter, Cléo de Mérode (Brussels, 1875 – Paris, 1960), a famous dancer and alleged mistress of Leopold II of Belgium, was perhaps the greatest myth of the Belle Epoque. Rubén Darío called her “our lady of the smile and the dance”, and said of her that she was “the most beautiful evocative poem to brighten life in this kingdom of enchantments”2.
A photograph of her on the wall behind Pablo Picasso is highly visible in the famous photograph taken by Vidal Ventosa of the great painter from Malaga, his partner Fernande Olivier and writer Ramón Reventós in the Guayaba studio in Barcelona in 1906. Mariano Benlliure also painted her portrait in 1910, when he was commissioned by the Casino of Madrid.