Thinking of 1895, when they were on the rocks in Holles Street, Molly Bloom remembers:
the woman is beauty of course thats admitted when he said I could pose for a picture naked to some rich fellow in Holles street (U 18.559-61)
To readers of Ulysses it is (and probably was) not obvious at a first glance that these two passages from different episodes suggest the same scenario: Molly posing in the nude..
The OED’s first quotation for “in the altogether”, defined as “the state of nakedness, the nude”, reveals a likely inspiration for Joyce’s expression “pose for the ensemble”, George du Maurier’s novel Trilby:
"I'm posing for Durien the sculptor, on the next floor. I pose to him for the altogether." "The altogether?" asked Little Billee. "Yes — l'ensemble, you know — heads, hands, and feet — everything — especially feet."
George du Maurier, Trilby (1894), p. 25-6
Paul Potter’s play (in a version revised by Beerbohm Tree, who had bought the English rights) figures in two of Joyce’s works.1 So perhaps it’s not a coincidence either that Bloom has his idea for additional income through Molly in 1895 when Trilby was an immense success on the stage with Beerbohm Tree in the role of Svengali in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Mrs Bloom has an unpleasant memory of the event, but also punningly suggests the nudity of the heroine:
that fellow in the pit at the Gaiety for Beerbohm Tree in Trilby the last time Ill ever go there to be squashed like that for any Trilby or her barebum (U 18.1041-3)
In Stephen Hero, Joyce’s first attempt at a portrait of the artist in the looking-glass, the play is mentioned twice:
Passing down Jones's Road they saw a gaudy advertisement in strong colours for a melodramatic play. Wells asked Stephen had he read 'Trilby'.
— Haven't you? Famous book, you know; style would suit you, I think. Of course it's a bit . . . blue.
— How is that?
— O, well, you know . . . Paris, you know . . . artists.
— O, is that the kind of book it is?
— Nothing very wrong in it that I could see. Still some people think it's a bit immoral.
(SH, p. 68)
The second time there is clear hint that the budding writer is already connected in his friend’s view with something slightly risqué.
— I suppose you'll be a parish priest one of these days.
— I hope so. You must come and see me when I am.
— Very good.
— When you're a great writer yourself -- as the author of a second 'Trilby' or something of that sort . . . (SH, p. 68)
The expression “to pose for the ensemble” was obviously adapted from the French “poser l’ensemble” (earlier used to mean “posing for a full portrait”):
Le rapin ouvre alors la porte de la sale des modèlles et la mère de famille se trouve face à face avec une demoiselle en train de poser l’ensemble devant sept ou huit artistes pour une Venus anadyomène.
Le Tintamarre (Paris: 1861), 17 March, p. 2
In 1878 we find it in English in Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science:
"Oui, madame. Ma femme is Lucreza, whom you know. She has made the nymphs and goddesses for a thousand pictures, but now she is so much fat that the messieurs will have her only for the head, although she still poses for the ensemble in the ateliers des dames."
Here the best Christ in Paris grinned satanically as a polyglot howl went up from among the students.
"That's his tit for the tat of the 'Cheshire cat,'" laughed Madame Lafarge, a French-American Corinne with an all-French moustache.
"We won't have Lucreza again if she is too fat to pose for the nude except in a ladies' studio," snapped the elder Swede.
Lippincott’s Magazine (1878), July: “An Atelier des Dames”
It crops up in a widely syndicated piece in the New York Times of 21 February 1886 (p. 4), describing the glamorous life of “Italian Models in Paris":
The lives they lead and the ends they attain… This is particularly the case for specialists, and particularly for female models – those who pose for the "ensemble" and those who only pose for the head or the costume. The first of these comprises only such girls as, having, one might say. Grown up in the atmosphere of the studio, attach no important to the exhibition of their nudity. Those who have left Italy after the age of 12 never consent to do so… It is a grave error to suppose that all these young women, even those who pose for the "ensemble", are of depraved character.
Later examples include the following from Robert Chambers’s Common Law (1911: ch. 12, p. 348):
Valerie said in a sweet, surprised way: "Do you know what I am?" "Yes ; you sit for artists." "I am a professional model," said Valerie. "I don't believe you understood that, did you?" "Yes, I did," said the countess. "You pose for the ensemble."
Around the time when Joyce lived in Paris artists used the expression to advertise for models:
Artiste dem. Jolie fille de 16 à 18 ans pour poser l’ensemble. – Foretay, 92, rue Amelot, 2 à 4 h.
Le Journal (Paris), 28 April, p. 6
Understanding the expression, which is rather opaque to the modern reader and not yet covered by the OED, sharpens our perception of Bloom’s fumbling to keep up appearances and being suggestively audacious at the same time when advertising Molly’s charms in that way to a male acquaintance fifteen years younger than her.
Many years later Finnegans Wake echoes a slightly modified expression: “by their toots ensembled” (225.2):
And one man came to borrow money to be repaid as soon as his young daughter had grown old enough to enter the profession which her mother had abandoned — posing tout ensemble for a club of artists.
"A Clergyman’s Study of 'The Stranded'", in The World’s Work (1902), September, p. 2512