It was a time capsule, untouched and abandoned for over 70 years. The owner, Mdm De Florian fled to the South of France to escape the ravages of WW2 and never returned. Although she faithfully paid her rent on her Grandmother’s stabilized rental in the 9th arrondisement, she never again saw Paris or the apartment.
But when Mdm de Florian died at the age of 91, just a couple of years ago, the contents had to be auctioned off. When the auctioneer first set eyes on this dust laden, cobweb filled apartment he commented that is was like entering “the apartment of sleeping beauty” where time had stood still since the late 1800’s. A treasure trove of antiques that hadn’t been touched in years. The experts were tasked with drawing up an inventory of her possessions and home in on the flat near the Trinité church in Paris between the Pigalle red light district and Opera.
Entering the untouched, cobweb-filled flat in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, one expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900.
The apartment’s demimondaine owner, Mdm. de Florian, was a late 19th Century Parisian beauty and well-known actress and performer of the time. ‘Demimondaines’ were courtesans (high-priced call girls) known for their extravagant lifestyles, provided of course by a string of wealthy and well-known lovers. Their clothing was envied by women in Paris. Even the wealthiest high society matrons could not compete sartorially (after all, they only had one “husband” supplying the goods; the demimondaines had many). Demimondaines were also renowned for drinking, drug use, gambling, and excessive spending (particularly on clothes). Despite their status they remained forever on the outside of society, perhaps the “half-world” designation quite telling of their station.
Mdm de Florian had hosted many admirers in her apartment, evidenced by their calling cards tucked away in petite drawers. Among them were statesmen of the period and the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau but there were also more artistic types. Among the centuries-old treasures, it was discovered that “she kept letters from her lovers in little packages wrapped up with ribbons of different colors,” attesting to her long list of admirers. The apartment still had it’s original dry sink and wood stove oven!
The auctioneers were tasked to inventory the complete contents of the apartment to be auctioned. But when the auctioneer’s caught a glimpse of a portrait his heart skipped a beat. It was a fabulous painting of a beautiful woman in a pink muslin dress. The painting was by famed Italian artist Giovanni Boldini painted of the apartments former inhabitant Mdm. Marthe de Florian, the Grandmother of the apartments current late owner.
The auctioneer couldn’t be sure if it was a Boldini as this painting was never documented in the archives of the late painter. However, the auctioneer found a love note scribbled to Mdm de Florian from the accomplished painter and the link was made. “We had the link and I was sure at that moment that it was indeed a very fine Boldini”.
The auction house finally found a reference to the work in a book by the artist’s widow, which said it was painted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24. The starting price for the painting was £253,000 but it rocketed as ten bidders vied for the historic work. Finally it went under the hammer for £1.78million, a world record for the artist.
‘It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion,’ said the auctioneer.
Written by Mark LaFleur of The Antique Warehouse, Vancouver.