November 5, 2010

Parisian Flat Remained Untouched for 70 years

The rent faithfully paid, a Parisian apartment was recently unshuttered and unlocked after 70 years of being uninhabited. A treasure house was found inside.


This is the sort of thing I actually have night-time dreams about. Secret rooms. Secret treasures. The kind of dream that leaves me invigorated. Read on.

The 9th arrondissement apartment belonged to a young woman who had left for the south of France at the onset of Word War II never to return. Experts said entering the untouched, cobwebby place was like stumbling upon the castle of Sleeping Beauty where time had stood still.

The place was a trove of 19th Century furniture; a time capsule of the Belle Epoque.  There was a stuffed ostrich and a pre-war Mickey Mouse. Carpets, books, vases and paintings.


I'm guessing that the young lady who abandoned the apartment who was only 21 at the time, may have inherited the apartment and not known what to do with it. The furniture and fittings all seem decidedly Fin de siècle.  Because of the war, the task of dealing with the property went onto the back burner. She obviously had the luxury of enough money not to care. She died in June of 2010.

The heart of Olivier Choppin-Janvry, the auctioneer charged with divvying up the property, skipped a beat when his eyes fell on an exquisite painting of a woman in pink. Thinking that is was most probably the work of Giovanni Boldini, he knew he had struck gold when he found a visiting card with a scribbled love note from Boldini.

The muse of the painting was the recently-deceased owner's grandmother, Marthe de Florian, an actress and demi-mondaine with a long list of admirers including Georges Clemenceau.

Choppin-Janvry auctioned off the painting at his own auction house. The starting bid for the painting was €300,000 but the price rocketed as ten bidders vied for the Boldini. Under the hammer for €2.1 million, it was a world record for the artist.

Boldini was also the friend (lover?) of one of my favourite bad girls, Marchesa Casati. Boldini painted her at least twice. Please click here to read my post on the Marchesa Casati.

This discovery is also strongly reminding me of a little gem of a book I have called In The Heart of Paris: The Fabulous Adventures of an Antique Dealer by Yvonne De Bremond D'Ars The gorgeous little thing published by Gollancz in 1960 is illustrated by Foujita! Here's part of the blurb.

An irresistible old French gentleman presents himself one day in the Antique shop of Mademoiselle Yvonne De Bremond D'Ars in the Faubourg St. Honore and begs for her aid. He is to administer  the estate of his late brother, who has left him with a wealth of treasures which his inexperienced eye can never value. This fortune he is to distribute to his five orphan nieces, long since scattered and out of touch, each absorbed by a different milieu into which the chances of life and personality have carried her. Each niece must be traced and her character assessed, for the riches, the old collector has instructed, are to be divided equally, not by material value, but in relation to the pleasure they bring to the legatees.

If you stumble upon this book at a used book sale, which is where I found my copy for $4.00, I would recommend it.


Hels said...

How often is an art historian or an auctioneer ever going to come across a house fixed in time like that?

Imagine finding the house, paintings, furniture, textiles and every other thing perfectly intact, not messed around by later generations! What joy!

Ima Wizer said...

Oh my, this is beyond wonderful....I, too, have dreams like this. Like minds, I suppose!
Thanks for sharing this!

Kate Hanley said...

This certainly is a treasure. Thanks for sharing.

Alistair said...

What an incredible story. Makes you just want to step into those photographs and browse through the treasures left behind all those years ago.

secretfragileskies said...

Exquisite post and beautifully formatted. Thanks!

Diane said...

Interesting to abandon such a wonderful space and not return... likely more to the story than a privileged young woman growing tired of the apartment.

Something terrible happened there. An argument with the painter?

Dust for fingerprints! Open cupboards and floorboards for body parts!

RSA Online said...

I agree this is absolutely wonderful! Who knows how many more "treasure chests" are out there? Imagine :)

Life, Laughter and Paris said...

This is amazing. I also have dreams about secret rooms but even in my dreams, no where near as beautiful and interesting as this!

Liza B. Gonzalez said...

a true archeological find. I would have paid my weight in gold to be allowed to rummage through the room. Oh, and what interesting lives these ladies lead.

Mya.L said...

I love this story, it is absolutely amazing - even better than the Agatha Christie trunk, which I thought was already quite incredible! May I ask you where you heard or read about it? I'd like to read an article in French if there's any out there. Thanks.

Ingrid Mida said...

How extraordinary.

The Clever Pup said...


I read about it on the Telegraph website. Here's a link.

tina tarnoff said...

Incredible, it sent shivers down my spine. This is my ultimate fantasy brought to life. This is what I think about while lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Going through someone's old forgotten things, through cobwebbed attic or a crumbling castle. When I read that the real Brideshead was a home to generations of the same family since 1500s I almost fainted. They must have kept items belonging to their ancestors. Can you imagine what that attic and basement and all those closets hold!!! The history of it all overwhelms me. Oh, btw, have you seen the new Masterpiece adaptation of Sherlock Holmes - the 21st century Holmes? It's brilliant. I was a bit skeptical as I'm such a Jeremy Brett fan, but Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing. And, it's filmed in an incredibly clever way. I think you can see the episodes here:

The Clever Pup said...

Thanks Tina, about the info for Sherlock Holmes. I had heard it was good and because I no longer have cable I'm happy I can see them online.

Mya.L said...

Thank you very much for the link!

andrew1860 said...

Wow this is a treasure trove time capsule. I love the Aesthetic movement embroidered fabric on the stuffed ostrich. I had two panels like this!