A Quixotic Discovery: Parisien Flat Unlocked after 70 years

Posted on Nov 9, 2011

de Florian Parisien Flat CREDIT "AFP/MARC OTTAVI"

It’s such an enchanting discovery I can barely keep my marabou slippers on! Now… on to the dusty details.

The romance began more than a hundred years ago in the heart of Paris… but remained secret all these years only to be unfurled by a handful of auctioneers, art experts and historians. Auction houses are  regularly commissioned to inventory the possessions of those passed away, but this story rings of romance and beauty like few others. Just imagine the awe of Monsieur Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who was tasked with carrying out the inventory, when he first made the discovery…

While perhaps he had been warned the apartment was ‘old’, he’d have nary an inkling of the treasure he was about to unlock. The Parisien flat lay untouched for 70 years after its owner left Paris for the South of France before the outbreak of World War II, never to return again. Undisturbed under lock and key, and with rent paid the apartment quietly gathered nearly a century of dust, escaping both the ravages of WWII and raiding potential thieves.

de Florian Parisien Flat CREDIT "AFP/MARC OTTAVI"

The apartment had been deserted by a Frenchwoman (who nevertheless continued to pay the upkeep for the next 70 years), granddaughter of Marthe de Florian – an early actress of the screen and a demimondaine. It was because of the 2010 death of de Florian’s granddaughter that the inventory of inherited belongings had been ordered. Monsieur Olivier Choppin-Janvry spoke of the moment he made the discovery and “the smell of dust,” one expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still.

de Florian Paris apartment CREDIT "AFP/MARC OTTAVI"

Gingerly tiptoeing over antique carpets and beneath tall wood beam ceilings they happened upon an old wood stove and stone sink in the kitchen and then a most fanciful feminine finding: the actresses dressing table graced with perfume bottles and silvered hair combs. But monsieur’s heart missed a beat when he caught sight of what would later be confirmed as a €2.1million prize.

There it was, hanging quietly amid cob-webs in the salon: a passionately painted canvas of a woman enshrouded in a pale pink mousseline evening dress. Monsieur, with his expert eye, was immediately suspicious the painting might be by the skillful hand of one of 19-century Paris’ most prized portrait artists, Italian Giovanni Boldini. And yet, no record of any such painting existed.

No reference book mentioned the painting and it certainly was never exhibited, said Marc Ottavi, the art specialist Monsieur consulted about the work. But his suspicions remained.

The apartment’s demimondaine owner, de Florian, had hosted many admirers there, evidenced by their calling cards tucked away in petite drawers. Among them were statesmen of the period and the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau but there were also more artistic types…  Betwixt the centuries-old treasures, it was discovered that “she kept letters from her lovers in little packages wrapped up with ribbons of different colors,” attesting to her long list of admirers. Could it be that famous Italian painter Giovanni Boldini, the ‘master of swish’ himself, kept de Florian as his muse?

Boldini's long lost painting of Marthe de Florian CREDIT "AFP/MARC OTTAVI"

In a dizzying moment all was confirmed when Monsieur 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”.

Later, more evidence came when a book written by Boldini’s widow was found which said it was painted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24.

The long lost treasure went up for auction and after frenzied bidding it quickly fetched €2.1million, a Boldini world record.  “It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion,” said Mr Ottavi.

It seems I’m not the only one enamoured with the story…


Despite the fact that I do not read, write or speak Czech, this article was enormously helpful in sourcing the above photos.


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  1. location appartement tel aviv
    April 16, 2012

    wow! autant d’informations utiles, ce qui un poste genial .. merci!

  2. Allan/Elaine
    August 4, 2012

    What a story of lives inter twined comes to mind. Loves found and lost, fleeing Nazi oppression, sickness, seduction, all of the woders that must be associated with such a MAGNIFICENT room.