January 19, 2011

Another Untouched French Gem

The French house untouched for 100 years

A late 19th Century town-house in central France that was sealed up for more than 100 years has finally been opened to the public in accordance with its owner's last wishes.
Louis Mantin was an aesthete and gentleman of leisure who bequeathed his opulent home to the town of Moulins on condition that a century later it be a museum.
After he died in 1905, the mansion was closed up and fell into dilapidation. Now thanks to a 3.5m euro ($4.7m; £2.9m) refit funded by local authorities, it has been returned to its original pristine state.
The result is a remarkable time-capsule, combining rich fin-de-siecle furnishings, archaeological curios, skulls and other Masonic paraphernalia, a collection of stuffed birds, as well as the latest domestic gadgets such as electricity and a flushing loo.

Outside of Maison Mantin
The house was forgotten, but not by locals

Mantin only had a few years to indulge his aesthetic fantasies. Knowing that his death was approaching, he made a will in which he made sure his treasured house would be saved.
"In the will, he says that he wants the people of Moulins in 100 years time to be able to see what was the life of a cultured gentleman of his day," said assistant curator Maud Leyoudec.
"A bachelor with no children, he was obsessed with death and the passage of time. It was his way of becoming eternal."
Some confusion surrounds the exact terms of the will.
According to local people, Mantin specifically said that the house should be locked up for a century and then opened up to the public.
However the truth is less sensational, if only slightly.
In fact, Mantin stipulated simply that in 100 years time the mansion should be a museum. He said nothing about what should happen in between.
Collective memory
The fact that the house was totally abandoned was thus not a predetermined condition - it was just what actually took place.
"The house was gradually forgotten by the world. But not by the people of Moulins," said Mantin's great-niece Isabelle de Chavagnac.
A bathroom inside Maison Mantin
As well as electricity, the house had modern bathrooms.

"Here everybody was waiting for the day when a 100 years would have passed and the house would be opened once again. It is odd how the collective memory of a place never dies."
Curiously it was Isabelle de Chavagnac - as one of Mantin's last known descendants - who played a key role in getting the house re-opened.
Under the will, the house would have reverted to her had it not been turned into a museum once the century had passed.
She had no desire to take the possession of the house. Quite the contrary, she wanted Mantin's wishes to be fulfilled.
But by threatening to exercise her right in law to take back the mansion, she forced the local authorities to act. They found the money to renovate, and the house opened at the end of 2010.
Five years late, but no-one is counting.

(thanks to John Moreau for suggesting this to me). 


Hels said...

I love the idea of a house museum, already filled with contemporary furniture so that no choices have to be made 100 years later. Normally curators are running around auction rooms, trying to find furniture that would not look too awful.

And well done to Isabelle de Chavagnac who understood what her relative had stipulated in the will, all those years ago. Lots of heirs would be tempted to grab the treasure for themselves.

And well done to the local council for stumping up the (I am guessing substantial) amount of money, needed to bring the house back to good condition.

I am on the board of a museum here in Melbourne and we often suggest that restoration costs need to be part of the original bequest. Ditto on-going maintenance costs.

Von said...

The Sleeping Beauty.
In the case of houses such as D.H.Lawrence's so much simpler!

ramidonya said...

Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing this Hazel. As Hels said, it is unique in that the curatorship would have been done by the gentleman who lived there. It's a funny self-conscious thing for him to do, I wonder how he thought about it exactly...Certainly a wonderful gift to the future and those of us in it.

Tess Kincaid said...

I'd love to visit this extraordinary place in person.