Madame de Florian inherited a Parisian apartment from her grandmother in the city’s 9th arondissement. The apartment building is located by the famed red-light district and the Opera Garnier. When the fighting of World War II threatened to spill into Paris in 1942, de Florian left the city and her apartment at 23 years old to live in the south of France in the French Riviera.
The apartment remained completely untouched for the next 70 years and de Florian continued to pay rent on the property during the entire time it was unoccupied. In fact, the apartment was only discovered when de Florian died at 91 years old.
Auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry and his team were commissioned by the family to visit the apartment in order to take stock of de Florian’s estate. Inside, there was a surprise waiting for the team: an apartment-sized time capsule of the Belle Epoque era in Paris, a period when the city enjoyed a cultural renaissance.
Some of the highlights of the decor included a taxidermy ostrich, retro stuffed animals (mickey Mouse and Porky the Pig) and other glamorous accessories befitting a grandly elegant French lady.
Perhaps the most exciting find within the apartment was a portrait of Madame de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian by artist, Giovanni Boldini, a famous portrait painter of High Society. Boldini, much like John Singer Sargent, perfected a technique of supremely flattering his outrageously wealthy clients by exaggerating their elegance, grace and poise.
Marthe de Florian had been a socialite, a theater actress, and a muse of Boldini. The painting took time to authenticate because it didn’t have the artist’s signature. It was also never listed, exhibited, or published. Luckily, a visiting card with a love note written by the artist was found in the apartment. This information was confirmed by a short reference in a 1951 book commissioned by the artist’s widow, Emilia Cardona. Based on the book reference, the actress was 24 years old and the work was painted in 1888.
The painting sold for 2.1 million euros in an intense bidding war. It was the highest price ever paid for a Boldini work.
This apartment would have been the perfect setting for the late great photographer Deborah Turbeville to capture in her unique , grainy, fuzzy, ghostly way. Miss Turbeville adored dusty old grand homes that once were vibrantly alive with a sparkling social life.