When a 91-year-old french woman died in 2010, her family discovered she owned an apartment in Paris that she had abandoned over 70 years ago.
Her name was Madame de Florian. In 1939 she locked the door to her Paris apartment for the last time ever and fled the city of light. Word War II had begun and with the German defensive nearing the city she knew she’d be much safer in the south of France. She was 23 years old when she left the apartment her grandmother had bequeathed her, and over the next 70 years, she never returned.
Year after year, up until the age of 91, she dutifully paid the rent and upkeep on the apartment. It was in perfectly preserved—and decorated—condition.
Upon her death in 2010, it was transferred and given to her family, who hired an auctioneer to go through and inventory its contents.
Her family tasked auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry and his team with visiting the flat in the city’s 9th arrondissement, near the Pigalle red-light district and the Opera Garnier, and inventorying its contents. When the unsuspecting experts unlocked the front door, they found it virtually untouched since before World War II.
Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust and yet it appeared as though Madame de Florian had only been gone for just a moment.
“There was a smell of old dust,” recalled Choppin-Janvry.
Born in 1864, de Florian was a certain breed of courtesan known as les demimondaines, who were famous for their lavish lifestyles, partying ways, and strings of high-profile suitors.
There was an assortment of makeup, brushes, and perfume bottles laying in a dressing table, candle stubs were scattered about, and glassware and books lined shelves. The artwork had been taken down off the walls and sat propped up against furniture, one of the inventory experts described it as “stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty.”
True in a sense, but it was more like stepping into early 1900s Paris, a glamorous and exciting place.
Among all of the treasures lay the most valuable and exciting discovery of all, a painting of a woman in a luxurious pink gown. The woman turned out to be Marthe de Florian, the owner Madam de Florian’s grandmother.
She had been a well known actress in Paris who lived lavishly and had many lovers. The man who had painted her portrait was one of them, an Italian artist by the name of Giovanni Boldini.
The painting had never been displayed before. When the apartment’s contents were discovered, Boldini’s painting was without a signature and no records of the work were found in reference books to prove it was his. They found a love note from him in the apartment, which also showed her to be his muse. The painting was put up for auction and sold for $3.4 million dollars, a record for a Boldini work.
If this fantastical tale of a shuttered apartment, a glamorous turn-of-the-century socialite, and a long-lost masterpiece sounds like something out of a novel, then you won’t be surprised to discover it has become the foundation of one.
It’s fascinating so see the little details and the unbelievable shape it’s in after being forgotten for 70 years! What do you think?