A Look Into The Past – An UNTOUCHED (1942) Paris Apartment

A Look Into The Past – An UNTOUCHED (1942) Paris Apartment

My brother sent me the most fascinating article last week about an apartment discovered in Paris that had not been touched in 70 years!  I studied the pictures taking in every detail, and I knew I had to share it with you!  You can find a few articles online about this amazing real estate find, but after a little research, I found there was quite a bit of incorrect information floating around.  Therefore, I got to googling, used lots of Google Translate to help me decipher the articles in French, spent a ridiculous amount of time on French genealogy sites, and have for you all of the information there is to know.  I believe this article to be the most comprehensive available in English, so enjoy!

The discovered apartment in France is near the Pigalle Red Light District (where Moulin Rouge is located), in the ninth arrondissement (this basically means “district” – Paris is divided into twenty districts, and you can tell which one you are in by the last number in the zip code – Paris goes from 75001 to 75020).  Marthe de Florian was the apartment’s owner in what is called The Gilded Age (1870’s to turn of the century), which was a time of great growth in the arts.  In fact, the great find of the apartment after it was opened was a beautiful original painting by the legendary artist, Giovanni Boldini.  The muse?  Marthe de Florian herself.

So who was she?  Well, many will tell you she was an actress, and she may have been, but the reason she had great wealth was because she was in a group referred to as demimondaines. (also sometimes called courtesans)  Demimondaines were basically elite prostitutes.  They didn’t live on the streets, but in fancy apartments and hotels.  Known for drinking, gambling, and excessive spending, they always had the highest of fashion and a long list of well-known and wealthy lovers.  (Side Note:  Have you ever seen the movie Gigi?  I believe Gigi was being trained by her aunt in the movie to be a demimondaine, like she was.  In the end, Gaston, of course, decides he would much rather have her as his wife than a mistress.  So he marries her, and they live happily ever after.  No wonder I never really understood this movie as a child, geez.  My husband would probably liken this to the fact that I used to think “geisha” meant “princess”.)

The painting was identified as being an original Boldini, known as the “Master of Swish” for his flowy style, and it collected a cool  2.1 million pounds (or $3,454,080 USD) at auction.  Because of love letters found in the apartment from Boldini to de Florian and a reference to the painting by Boldini’s widow in an old memoir, historians pieced together that the woman in the painting found in the apartment was indeed Marthe de Florian.

artist, Giovanni Boldini

Marthe de Florian was born on September 9, 1864 in Paris.  Actually, her real name is Mathilde Heloise Beaugiron.  (she probably took Marthe de Florian as a stage name)  A record from 1882 shows she was a seamstress (she would have been 18), but of course, that did not pan out.  She never married, and I cannot find a death record from anywhere, but she did have a son; rather, she had two.  Marthe de Florian had a son and named him Henri in 1882, and he died in 1883.  (so she would have been a seamstress at the time)  In 1884, her second son Henri was born.  He lived until 1966 and died in Paris, and many have thought he did not marry nor have children.  However, he may have fathered a child named Solange Beaugiron.  (read on for more details)  Something interesting about the second Henri is that the midwife recorded that his mother was Mathilde Vaugiron with no known occupation.  In 1889, an addendum was made that said Mathilde Beaugiron had recognized the boy as hers.  It is unknown why there was a discrepancy, it could have been a simple mistake or a cover-up for having a child out of wedlock.  And perhaps she went from seamstress to demimondaine because she had a boy to support??  The above Boldini painting was said to have been painted when Marthe de Florian was 24 years old, which would have been 1888/1889, when Henri was around four or five years old.

So how did this apartment stay locked up for seventy years?  Well, there is some mystery here, and I have not been able to decipher what exactly happened, but here’s what I know.  The apartment had been passed down to the granddaughter of Marthe de Florian (referred to in the press as Madame de Florian), and she lived there until 1942, when the Nazis invaded Paris (“The Fall of France”).  She never returned, but continued paying for the apartment until her death at the age of 90 (some articles say 91) in 2010.  The apartment was deeded to her estate, and when some evaluators were sent to check out the mysterious real estate, they found the space untouched, “smelling of old dust”, and full of exotic taxidermy (a sign of wealth at the time),  representing a life nary a fingerprint since World War II.  (notice the Mickey Mouse!)

You may be wondering, like me, why the name of the granddaughter that kept ownership of the apartment has been shrouded since her death in 2010?  Apparently, France has very stringent family privacy laws, and most everyone is keeping their lips sealed.  I did translate an article, however, that suspected Marthe de Florian’s granddaughter may have been a woman named Sonlange Beaugiron.  She was a young playwright, and at age seventeen (1938), and under the pseudonym “Solang Beldo”, wrote and submitted a play called “Miss Mary”.  She was later quite upset when she found her manuscript was copied and turned into another successful play called “Heat Breast”.  The case was eventually settled between her father (since she was not of age), and the theater company, and all was well.  (In the article, her father was stated to be a pharmacist – perhaps Henri Beaugiron???) 

Something I thought was interesting when looking through all of these articles that I did not see mentioned in any of the American news stories was that Marthe de Florian kept her lovers letters together by a colored ribbon system – a different color for every lover.  (a woman after my own heart – she likes pretty organization!) Her son and granddaughter kept them together just as she had left them all those years ago.  Wouldn’t you love to read them?

Looking at these pictures is like looking at a history book, you can almost see storylines in the dusty papers and peeling gilt.  A seamstress turned demimondaine supporting a son hidden away that she desperately loved…Amidst the string of wealthy politicians and businessmen and artists she entertained, Boldini was her one true love…She may have died of a broken heart, and her scented perfume still lingers in the apartment she lived her life so long ago.  Long ago in Gay Paris.  Of course, these themes are just my musings, but I would love to know more of the story, wouldn’t you?

This is the ninth district in Paris today. The apartment is suspected to be in one of these buildings.

Since the apartment belongs in the de Florian/Beaugiron estate, it still exists somewhere in Paris, securely sealed, left exactly as it was found when it was opened for the first time in nearly seventy years in 2010.  Of course, the Boldini painting has been sold at auction, but everything else remains there, untouched and “smelling of old dust”.  As of now, there are no plans to open it to the public.

Sources:

Geneology of Marthe de Florian

Mistress Mystery Q&A

1942 Time Capsule

Art Gallery Listing

An Apartment Discovery

Michelle Gable  (Michelle Gable has actually written a ficticious book called “The Paris Apartment” due out this year.

Collar City Brownstone – Article One, Article Two

Written by Grace

44 Comments
  • Angie
    Posted at 11:25h, 09 January Reply

    So fascinating! I actually read a brief article on this that someone had posted on FB, and it’s great to have the etxra info. But question, I don’t speak or read French, so I couldn’t read her genealogy, but how does she have a granddaughter if her first Henri died and the second Henri did not have any children?

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:44h, 09 January Reply

      Hi Angie, I actually went back and changed the article as the way I worded it was confusing, I think. It took some digging, but I did find a record of Henri Beaugiron being the father of Solange Beaugiron, who was mentioned in the article. No mention of the mother though, so the facts are still nit quite clear. Hope that helps! Thanks for reading! G

  • jennifer
    Posted at 11:29h, 09 January Reply

    Great story! Oh I would love to be able to walk thru that apartment.

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:44h, 09 January Reply

      Jennifer, ME TOO!! I could stare at these pictures for hours! G

  • Amber
    Posted at 11:31h, 09 January Reply

    Wow! This is so interesting! Great post!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:13h, 09 January Reply

      Amber, thank you! I know, I’m completely enthralled in the story! G

  • Sheri
    Posted at 11:37h, 09 January Reply

    You make me smile! I had seen this same article a few days ago and was so intrigued as well. I too looked at the pictures and imagined. Of course, I didn’t know as much as you do though. Nice detective work!! How incredible it would have been to be that person who first walked in.

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:15h, 09 January Reply

      Oh I know! I would have LOVED to have been that person, incredible! I still wish I knew more about Marthe and what happened to her after the golden years of being a demimondaine were over, her son, and the life of the granddaughter, but I published everything there is to find on their lives. I’ll still search though, I do love to be Nancy Drew. 🙂 G

  • CJ Harris
    Posted at 11:39h, 09 January Reply

    Fascinating Grace, well done. I really enjoy research as well. Who says you have to bury a time capsule? Thank you for sharing your time spent on this. A truly remarkable find!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:50h, 09 January Reply

      CJ, thank you so much! I am truly fascinated by it as well. I have always been a bit of a Nancy Drew. 🙂

  • Erika W.
    Posted at 11:43h, 09 January Reply

    Wow, I had not heard a thing about this discovery! Thank you for posting and doing some research on it! Very interesting post!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:49h, 09 January Reply

      Thanks Erika! I worried it would have made the rounds already, but I got excited when I started making little discoveries I had not read. 🙂

  • Alex
    Posted at 11:46h, 09 January Reply

    Ahhhh, mon ami…your timing is perfect! I have been knee deep in All things Paris because we are moving there in June! Wanna help decorate a Parisian apartment?! Not the 9th but 16th arrondissement we think! Thanks for such an interesting piece!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:16h, 09 January Reply

      Alex, HOLY COW!!! What? Wow, that is amazing! And yes, I would be out there in a heartbeat to help you with your Parisian apartment. I need to hear more, how exciting! G

  • Meka
    Posted at 12:12h, 09 January Reply

    Great post just like a romance novel! I think you should write a book about it!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:45h, 09 January Reply

      Meka, I know! It is quite romantic and scandalous and touching, the makings of a great story. 🙂 Maybe I should pass it on to my husband, he’s the true novel writer of the family. 🙂

  • Kimberly Cole
    Posted at 15:01h, 09 January Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this.

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:48h, 09 January Reply

      Thank you, Kimberly! It was fun to write. 🙂

  • Emily
    Posted at 15:43h, 09 January Reply

    Grace,
    Fascinating and I appreciate your further sleuthing abilities! This story reminds me a bit of Lily Langtry, King Edward VII’s royal mistress. Different time period and place, but somehow when I look at the rooms I get that feeling from her story. Thank you, and I will be keeping my eyes open for Michelle Gable’s book. I love a good historical fiction story!

    • Grace
      Posted at 15:47h, 09 January Reply

      Emily, so interesting! I will have to look her up, I also LOVE history and a good historical fiction. Thanks for my newest tidbit to read about. 😉

      • Elaine
        Posted at 18:30h, 09 January Reply

        This is really a fascinating article and I still love the traditional French decorating style of that period in time. Which is shown in the photos. I have been in this district in France which still has beautifully preserved architecture. One wonders when you walk past them what secrets lie behind the walls. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the way it was!

        • Grace
          Posted at 21:54h, 09 January Reply

          Elaine, oh me too!! I LOVE French architecture, design, and interiors. I am captivated by little antique French chairs! I have never been to France, but I would love to go someday. So inspiring! Thank you for taking the time to comment. G

  • Melissa
    Posted at 19:14h, 09 January Reply

    Grace, how fascinating. Thanks for sharing –

    • Grace
      Posted at 21:52h, 09 January Reply

      Hi Melissa, thank you so much! I’m glad others think it is interesting, too! G

  • Lynn
    Posted at 00:11h, 10 January Reply

    Wow Grace, what an amazing story! Thanks so much for researching it and sharing it. I love to seeing those pictures, just to be able to imagine what it would have been like to live there. Please keep us posted if you find out any more! Lynn

    • Grace
      Posted at 09:13h, 10 January Reply

      Hi Lynn, thank you! I, too, love to imagine what it would have been like…I’m still so enamored with the whole story! 🙂 Thanks for the comment, G

  • Cathy
    Posted at 07:48h, 10 January Reply

    thanks so much for sharing

    Kind regards
    Cathy

    • Grace
      Posted at 09:11h, 10 January Reply

      Thank you very much, Cathy! So glad you enjoyed it!

  • Gwen
    Posted at 14:13h, 12 January Reply

    What a great story and beautiful photos! This would make a great book or movie. Thanks for your work to include all the research and history. Posts like this add so much richness to your blog and keep me coming back.

  • John k hutchison
    Posted at 01:42h, 09 March Reply

    Hi I found this on YouTube then I was captivated as Iam a history buff I found your article Iam very interested in mad an de florian live after she left the apartment and wow the apartment location what plans for the papers
    I have an actress friend in Paris looking into it So I’ll keep you posted

  • Denis
    Posted at 11:17h, 30 August Reply

    “the Gipalle Red Light District”? Did you mean “Pigalle”?

    • Grace
      Posted at 22:31h, 21 September Reply

      Oh my goodness, Denis, you are exactly right! I’m not sure how I got that confused, but I do appreciate you pointing it out to me! I will fix it!

      • Denis
        Posted at 07:18h, 22 September Reply

        You’re welcome! The truth is, as a French, it sounds really weird to me reading the name of this iconic place written that way! (If you’d read it out loud, I think no French would even recognize it! Before the “i”, the “g” sounds like a “j”, while it sounds like “g” in “good” before an “a”.)
        Anyway, Grace, you did a great job gathering all the details of this amazing story. It’s incredibly romantic: the painting, the love letters, the furniture… The apartment is like frozen in time. I wish they won’t even clean the dust and preserve everything as is for the next centuries.
        It reminds me of another famous story that is supposed to have taken place in Paris, 1925: Jean Romier, a young student, incidentally meets an old man, Mr Berruyer, who invites him to a private concert at his apartment the following friday night. J. Romier spends a delightful evening with nice people, dressed in an old-fashioned way, playing Mozart. When he leaves the apartment, he realizes that he’s left his lighter inside the apartment. But when he gets back to the flat and knocks at the door, rings the bell, nobody opens. Neighbours start coming to see what’s happening. Mr Romier tells them about the musical evening at the Berruyer’s, which nobody believes: all the people with whom he has allegedly spent the evening have died a long time ago. However, the flat’s owner (a great-great-grandson of Mr Berruyer’s) is amazed by all the details that Romier gives about the apartment and the people, who happen to be his ancestors. When the flat gets opened, on the day following the party, everything inside the apartment is covered with dust, and Mr Romier’s lighter can be found right where he had left it, also covered with dust. You can find many reports of this story, with an incredible amount of details. Some say that the police record is available from the archives of the Préfecture de Police, Paris, VIème arrdt, year 1925…
        True story or not, I would definitely feel the same if I was ever to enter the Untouched Apartment…

        • Grace
          Posted at 13:08h, 22 September Reply

          OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT??!! What an incredible story! I definitely need to look this up, this may end up being another “I heard about this and stayed up all night researching it” post. Thanks so much, Denis. I really appreciate you taking the time to write all of that! G

  • Carol Dudley
    Posted at 20:26h, 02 January Reply

    Having done a great deal of research on this myself, my interest is – has anyone found the grave of Solange? Supposedly buried in the South of France – Also, any further information on her? Thank you.

  • Alexandra
    Posted at 17:20h, 04 February Reply

    I saw another article on this, wanted to know more, and found your page. Thanks for doing all the research. I am so intrigued by this. So many questions. Why did the woman who owned the apartment never return? Did she own it, or rent it? Why did the neighbors in the building not wonder why nobody ever went in and out. Did she receive no mail in 68 years? Were there never plumbing or heating upgrades that would have necessitated entry into the apartment? Did she have any direct descendants who would have inherited the apartment if she owned it?

    Darn those French and their privacy laws!

  • Alexandra
    Posted at 17:21h, 04 February Reply

    And just to think, back in the days when I dreamed about living in Paris, I could have snuck in and lived rent free for decades and nobody would have been harmed, nobody would have been the wiser!

  • Jody
    Posted at 21:34h, 04 October Reply

    Sooo fascinating! I love mysteries like these. Thank you for doing so much research.

    • Grace
      Posted at 00:31h, 27 October Reply

      Thanks Jody! I’m a mystery lover, too! xo

  • RH
    Posted at 01:06h, 20 May Reply

    She probably chose to write “seamstress” as a cover up. I doubt she would have revealed her true proffession, which was a scandalous one despite the luxury and gilt, on an official document! It is not unlikely that both sons were results of the professional affairs…

  • Lydia
    Posted at 06:29h, 13 July Reply

    Lovely. I would love to read the letters. Look through the books. Stare at the paintings. Really just enjoy it all. Question. Do they have any other family member that can inherit it all?

  • Anne S.
    Posted at 20:11h, 28 July Reply

    Just came upon your post. I’ve read the book “A Paris Apartment” and wanted to know more. I do speak French and went through the genealogy records. There are some things that don’t quite add up.

    – When Marthe de Florian dies, her address was listed as 2 square La Bruyere. Her son Henri, who was 55 when Marthe died was also listed as living at 2 square La Bruyere.
    – When Henri died in 1966, his address was still listed as 2 rue La Bruyere. (These are, in fact, two different addresses, but I have a strong suspicion that one of these is an error in the original documents. 2 square La Bruyere and 2 rue La Bruyere are around the corner from each other.
    – Henri’s birth certificate lists 69 rue Condorcet at Marthe de Florian’s address when he was born.

    So, either the apartment in question is 69 rue Condorcet (unlikely) or mother and son happened to live in two different apartments with very similar addresses. Or maybe Henri actually lived in the apartment until 1966.

  • Carol M.
    Posted at 16:58h, 13 August Reply

    Have delightfully stumbled on your blog, as have recently picked up my curiosity of this story which started for me in January 2015 via Daily Mail.com! Both fascinating and perplexing! My questions: Can’t find a “trail” for Solange?! Who would have inherited the apartment after Solanges’ death? Who “could” inherit a rented apartment (rent paid for 70 years?)? Who hired Marc Ottavi to unlock the apartment? Wiki says: Marthe died in Trouville-sur-Mer, France (2 hr.drive from Paris at todays speeds)…then went on to say she died in the apartment, where Henri (ll) lived with her…where Henri ll lived until “his” death in 1966…based on that, the apartment wasn’t vacant for 70 years?!…papers in apt. dated 1955. Where the “expenses” of the apt. those of Solanges’ father, Henri ll?…but why pay anything after 1966?!…Solange must have come back to apt. at her fathers’ death?! This is looking more like a bowl of spaghetti!! Curiouser & curiouser but intoxicating! Timeline doesn’t work at all! Glad you speak French, Anne S., that “should” be a great help to “The Marthe Mystery Mavens”!

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 09:11h, 06 December Reply

    Have been interested in the apartment since it first came to light and have read a few fiction books woven around the apartment and Marthe de Florian. At the moment am reading The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman set around Marthe who shares her story with her grand daughter Solange.
    .

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