Frozen in time, an exquisite Parisian apartment, cloaked in dust and brimming with turn-of-the-century wonders, has emerged as a captivating journey into the past. Locked away for seven decades, this untouched abode came to light three years ago following the passing of its 91-year-old owner, Mrs. De Florian.
Having fled to the south of France before the outbreak of World War II, Mrs. De Florian never returned to her residence in the French capital’s 9th arrondissement. Over the subsequent 70 years, it appeared that not a soul had ventured inside. Nestled between the notorious Pigalle red light district and the Opera, this hidden gem near a church held secrets waiting to be unveiled.
A team of experts embarked on the task of cataloging the possessions that adorned this remarkable time capsule. Among the treasures, a painting by the 19th-century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini stood out. Stepping into the apartment, expert Olivier Choppin-Janvry likened the experience to stumbling upon Sleeping Beauty’s castle, where time had seemingly halted in 1900. The air carried the scent of old dust, setting the stage for an extraordinary discovery.
Choppin-Janvry’s heart skipped a beat as he encountered a mesmerizing tableau featuring a woman in a pink muslin evening dress. The painting, a creation of Boldini, depicted Marthe de Florian, a stunning French actress and socialite of the Belle Époque. She was not only Boldini’s muse but also the grandmother of the apartment’s owner.
Marthe de Florian, the captivating actress, had retained fervent love letters from a legion of ardent admirers, neatly tied with ribbons, discovered alongside the painting. Noteworthy among her suitors was the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau, and, of course, Boldini himself.
Initially, the expert had suspected the painting to be Boldini’s, but the lack of any record posed a challenge. The breakthrough came when a visiting card with a love note from Boldini was uncovered, establishing the connection. The painting, revealed to have been crafted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24, became the centerpiece of an extraordinary auction.
With a starting price of £253,000, the bidding frenzy ensued, attracting ten eager participants. Ultimately, the historic work fetched an astounding £1.78 million, setting a world record for the artist.
Describing the moment, art specialist Marc Ottavi remarked, ‘It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion.’ This Parisian time capsule not only unveiled a breathtaking masterpiece but also provided a rare glimpse into a bygone era, captivating art enthusiasts and collectors worldwide.