Thursday, October 07, 2010

Real-Life Enchantment

One of my favorite childhood fantasies was finding a secret attic in my house filled with treasures from bygone eras, especially art works. If I had visited Paris as a child, it would surely have figured into my reveries.

Recently, an apartment in the 9th arrondisement in the middle of Paris, locked and untouched for 70 years, was opened after its owner died. She had moved to the South of France shortly before World War II but continued to pay rent on the apartment, a veritable time capsule, for the rest of her life. It was filled with furniture, books and paintings, including one by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini which recently sold at auction for $2.9 million US.

The untitled painting of a woman in a pink evening gown, painted in 1898, was of the artist's muse, Marthe de Florian, a French actress, and had never been listed, exhibited or published. Her granddaughter was the owner of the apartment. A scribbled love note from the artist to his muse was also discovered. One art expert said it was like creeping into Sleeping Beauty's castle, where time had stood still all these years.

Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 and moved to Paris in 1871. He was greatly influenced by Courbet, Manet and Degas, with whom he established lifelong friendships. He became known mainly as a portrait artist whose subjects included the Duchess of Marlborough, Giuseppe Verdi and Edgar Degas. In his portraits of elegantly-dressed women, he developed a 'whiplash' style in which the model appeared to be thrown onto the canvas. Boldini died in Paris in 1931.

Marthe de Florian had entertained her many admirers in the apartment and kept letters from her lovers in packets wrapped with ribbons of different colors. The calling cards of senior statesmen from the period were found tucked away in drawers.

Happily, the exquisite painting went to a good home. The art specialist who authenticated and appraised the portrait said, "It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion." I find that most fitting for a work that was doubtless created in passion and, like Sleeping Beauty, waited silently all these years for the right person to open the door and break the magic spell.

Note: If anyone owns a painting of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on velvet, it is probably not a Boldini.


TechnoBabe said...

This is an amazing story with a happy ending. Just thinking of the apartment sitting empty with all the history collecting dust so to speak gives me goose bumps. Happy goose bumps.

the walking man said...

I knew that there had to be somewhere in this world some undiscovered treasures. Good for the old gal who kept the place as it was. And well done to the purchaser of the canvas for seeing the passion and being passionate about it.

Jo said...

Omigawd, Susan...! What an amazing story. I have a feeling it will be made into a movie one day.


nick said...

The real tragedy, I feel, is that the painting has been kept hidden and not seen by the public for all that time, and will presumably still be hidden now the private collector has bought it. I hope he at least makes it available for the odd exhibition.

TaraDharma said...

a wonderful treasure trove of goodies from the past! It's almost like a dream....

they could just keep the apartment and charge a fee for could see it all, intact. Wow. A Paris Apartment Museum. Worth going to Paris for.

Deb said...

I love that line - "he paid the price of passion." Very descriptive. The guy must be richer than god.

Gorgeous painting though.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. The picture is beautiful and the love story delightful.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Isn't it, though? This story made me insanely happy, for some reason.


It's surreal, like piercing a veil into another dimension.


You're right - it cries out to be a movie, beginning with the death of the actress' granddaughter and discovery of the magical apartment, then flashing back to the story of the artist and his muse, ending with the portrait sold at auction. Kind of like "Titanic," but hopefully better.


I thought of that, too. I'm sure the apartment was not climate controlled, but then, the painting must have been a lover's gift, not meant to be viewed by the world at large.


What a wonderful idea you have! Of course, I can't think of anything that would not be a good reason to go to Paris.


It's great to see you again! Yes, the price of passion can be very high.


I'm a sucker for a good love story, especially one involving artists.

Cloudia said...

Treasure trove!!!

Warm Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

mischief said...

I love the painting, and I love what you called the "whiplash style". She truly does look as though she was flung against the canvas. She's lovely. (So are you.)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Isn't it, though?


Pretty in Pink! :) I guess throwing models onto canvas didn't work out too well as later, artists like Jackson Pollack merely hurled paint.

English Rider said...

Lovely painting and a compelling history. Sheer wonderment at anyone who can sit so nonchalantly in such a gown.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I love your take on this story, and
think that some are born to evening gowns and others, like me, to jeans.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

The romantic in me has swooned and passed out on the pillow strewn chaise lounge by the rose garland covered window, overlooking the sunny sea.

THAT is the best story I've heard in ages; straight out of a fairy tale.


Thank you!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, me too. I adore fairy tales, and art, and come to think of it, gorgeous evening gowns, too, although my life style belies it.

Jocelyn said...

I get caught up in such enchanting stories, too. I wonder what it is in us that makes us crave the possibility of something long hidden being unearthed at last?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I adore fairy tales. This has many of the qualities of one, ergo :) I love it!