Sunday, February 13, 2011

Parisian flat lay untouched for 70 years

Last October I found a few articles about an apartment in Paris that’s door had not been opened in 70 years… I was dreaming about Paris yesterday and thought I would share the story with you all.

The year is 1940. Germany is marching through the French countryside. Italy has thrown down its white glove. France and Britain are losing troops by the handful and in the summer French leaders sign their surrender. Pictures are taken of Adolf Hitler posing with the Eiffel Tower at his back.

Before all these events can transpire, a young woman, the granddaughter of the exceptionally beautiful Marthe de Florian locks her Parisian flat for the last time and flees the city for the South of France, leaving her life behind.

Seventy years later at 91 years old, the woman passes away without ever having returned to her Parisian home.

Even though she never returned, she continued to pay rent on the flat and at the time of her death, the matter of assessing and selling her estate was turned over to a team of experts and auctioneers who then discovered the existence of the mysterious flat.

Behind the door, under a thick layer of dust lay a treasure trove of turn-of-the-century objects including a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.

image image      The painting, the artist…


The flat near the Trinité church in Paris between the Pigalle red light district and Opera.


I googled the area and this is what it looks like now…


Giovanni Boldini (31 December 1842 – 11 July 1931) was an Italian genre and portrait painter, belonging to the school of Paris. According to a 1933 article in Time magazine, he was known as the "Master of Swish" because of his flowing style of painting.

 image image

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.


“There was a smell of old dust,” said Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery. Walking under high wooden ceilings, past an old wood stove and stone sink in the kitchen, he spotted a stuffed ostrich and a Mickey Mouse toy dating from before the war…


I think the other doll looks like porky pig, what do you think?


As well as an exquisite dressing table.


But he said his heart missed a beat when he caught sight of a stunning tableau of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress.


The painting was by Boldini and the subject a beautiful Frenchwoman who turned out to be the artist’s former muse and whose granddaughter it was who had left the flat uninhabited for more than half a century.

The muse was Marthe de Florian, an actress with a long list of ardent admirers, whose fervent love letters she kept wrapped neatly in ribbon and was still on the premises. Among the admirers was the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau, but also Boldini.

The expert had a hunch the painting was by Boldini, but could find no record of the painting. “No reference book dedicated to Boldini mentioned the tableau, which was never exhibited,” said Marc Ottavi, the art specialist he consulted about the work.

When Mr Choppin-Janvry found a visiting card with a scribbled love note from Boldini, he knew he had struck gold. “We had the link and I was sure at that moment that it was indeed a very fine Boldini”.

He 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 €300,000 but it rocketed as ten bidders vied for the historic work. Finally it went under the hammer for €2.1 million, 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 Mr Ottavi.


  1. This post is an amazing story...I really enjoyed reading it, you just don't think things like this happen but they do.
    Have a nice day.

  2. Carol Ann, Thanks for posting this story and photos. What an amazing discovery! Thanks also for becoming a follower on my happy to meet you. :)