As part of Curt’s Analogue Hobbies Painting Competition I wanted to prepare an entry for the second themed round, the title of which was “Villains”. After some thought, I decided I wanted to try to keep all my themed entries focused loosely on the battle of Verdun in 1916. I hit upon the idea of preparing a couple of models for perhaps the most famous villain(ess) of the Great War, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle – better known as Mata Hari.
There’s a huge amount about Mata Hari on the internet, and I’m guessing everyone here knows the story of the Dutch exotic dancer whose provocative and flirtatious dancing became famous before the War started, and whose later career during the War became one of a courtesan embroiled in espionage and scandal.
Her story is pretty remarkable. Reading more about her, I felt Mata Hari deserved not one but three images for the “Villains” theme. I had purchased a couple of models of Mata Hari a few years back from Alex Bagosy via the always-excellent Lead Adventure Forum. That gave me the chance to prepare a series of Mata Hari models, each one focusing on different parts of her story, and mix at least one of them with a little “Alternative History”.
Here’s what I came up with…..
The first figure is Mata Hari as she became famous in Paris before the Great War – the City of light, of champagne, of laughter and of dubious morality. Here she’s depicted on the stage of the Musée Guimet in 1905, a bouquet of trumpet lilies at her feet. And, as I knew Curt would like it, she’s painted in greyscale, perhaps to offset the lurid gas-lights of the Parisian stage. The base is built up with "grey stuff" putty, including the lilies, which I struggled with quite a bit. My wife really likes these flowers, but looking at them in a vase, I admit that I've only really managed a rough representation of them.
Next, we see Mata Hari dancing in more private surroundings during the War. Perhaps for Captain Vadime de Masloff (her historical lover) or perhaps for a French general ensnared in Mata Hari’s web of seduction and betrayal, his be-medalled tunic, letters and High Command despatches lying thoughtlessly discarded on the carpeted floor of a hotel close to the Gare du Nord. The base was built up with "grey stuff" floorboards and carpet, with some very inexpensive plastic doll's house furniture which I found on eBay for a couple of pounds. I'd had the gramophone for a while ( it narrowly avoided being British "trench loot" for German trench raiders a couple of years back), and I thought it would be ideal for Mata Hari's hotel room. I added the carelessly discarded trench map out of the foil from an old wine bottle top, and then added more "grey stuff", this time in the form of a French General officer's uniform complete with medal. A spaniel completed the somewhat eclectic scene in the Gare du Nord hotel.
I drew the line at including the French General in the hotel bed waiting for his lover. This is, after all, a family blog!
And finally, in the last vignette, and in a blast of Alternative History, the terrible result of Mata Hari’s espionage is clear for all to see. A discarded copy of "Le Petit Parisien" (no doubt dropped by a stunned and shocked veteran of the 1870 campaign close to a Paris Metro station) announces in sombre tones the fall of Verdun to the Germans on a cold Autumnal day in 1916. A copy of the newspaper, and stolen, confidential or purloined despatches are placed on the back seat of Mata Hari’s limousine as she quietly leaves Paris, with fallen leaves and doubtless a fallen French Government in her wake.
The car is a lavish 1910 Mercedes, complete with liveried chauffeur, picked up from Ebay for a couple of pounds with a couple of changes such as adding transparent plasticard for the front windows. Both Mata Hari and chauffeur are from Sloppy Jalopy, although Mata Hari was converted with a new hat, matching the one she was wearing while arrested in 1917.
The base was built up from non-warping marine plywood, with a plasticard set of paving stones. The lamppost was scratch built using two plastic rods, and topped with a plasticard sign and a plastic lamp fixture from one of my daughter's old toys. I wanted to try and creat a Parisian "feel" to the scene - a sense of a time and place. I thought about producing additional figures, or a small building, but it was hard to think of anything quite as evocative as a sign for the Paris Metro.
I also wanted to try and create the background of the fictional fall of Verdun. This was perhaps the most fun thing of all to do. I found a copy of “Le Petit Parisien” newspaper from 1910 online and photoshopped a new headline onto it – “Verdun Pris Par Les Allemands". I then reduced the photoshopped page to a tiny size, and cut it out. I tinted the paper with a wash of paint, and then crumpled it slightly and painted the whole with a glaze of PVA glue to keep its shape so that it would look as if a Parisian had been so shocked by the news he had simply dropped the newspaper on the street. Quelle horreur!
To try and echo the devastating news, I made a second newspaper for the back of the limousine, and added a brace of letters - perhaps stolen letters from a lover in the Deuxieme Bureau, or messages from Mata Hari's own spymaster - on the back seat of her limousine.
The autumn leaves we're added with more PVA glue. I bought a small pack a long time ago from Antenocitti's Workshop, and they are still going strong! Trying to get the right colours to stand out against the grey base was a good way to spend half an hour.
And that was about it for the third vignette. It was a lot of fun to do, perhaps especially because of the chance to weave Alternative History into a model. I'm on the lookout for other ideas like this from the Great War, so with luck I may be able to do something like this again - ideally with a model from the front line.
Next up will hopefully be some veteran hardened French infantry from the battlefields of Verdun, although this will have to wait for a few days following being submitted for Curt's Challenge. In the meantime, I'll try and post on the blog some of the handouts I've been mentioning for some time.