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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Time Capsule Apartment


By Lisa Karon Richardson

It was 1940, and in the face of the Nazi’s relentless march across Europe, a wealthy young Parisian woman gathered a few beloved belongings then locked her apartment up tight before fleeing to the south of France.

She never returned.

But for the next 70 years she faithfully kept up the rent on her old home. When she finally passed away at the age of 91, her heirs learned of the Parisian apartment turned time capsule and the door was finally reopened, giving us a glimpse into life just before World War II.


The owner must have had a quirky sense of humor. Notice the stuffed ostrich, who must have looked cold enough to require that gorgeous shawl at some point. 

And who could miss the stuffed Mickey Mouse doll. 


The owner also had a sense of elegance. There are a number of beautiful things including a magnificent vanity. And all those paintings.


Realizing that this was a unique heritage, the heirs hired an expert to inventory the apartment. And then the story gets even better. For among all those paintings, an arresting picture of a woman in pink was found and with it a mystery was posed. The expert, Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery was convinced immediately that the painting was by Giovanni Boldini. But no reference book ever made mention of such a painting. There was no record of Boldini having created such a work.

The sitter was Marthe de Florian, grandmother to the woman who left the apartment alone for 7 decades. Marthe had been a 19th century actress with a long list of admirers that included the Prime Minister of France at the time, Georges Clemenceau.

Choppin-Janvry thought he might be on the verge of art history and he was right. For among the treasures in the apartment, Marthe’s love letters were also found, tied neatly with ribbon in the approved style. Tucked in among these notes was one of Boldini’s calling cards with a love note scrawled on the back. Fueled by proof of a link, Choppin-Janvry continued to investigate. And he finally turned up mention of the painting in a book written by the artist’s widow. The painting had been painted in 1898, when Marthe had been 24 years-old. He had done it; proved that Marthe had been Boldini’s muse, and that Boldini had painted the portrait found in the “secret” apartment.

The painting was subsequently put up for auction at Sotheby’s with an opening bid of 300,000 pounds, but as bidders vied for the historic piece, the price climbed and climbed. It finally sold for 2.1 millions pounds, that's more than 3 million dollars.

via The Telegraph, photos by GETTY

I wonder why Marthe's granddaughter never went home? I'd like to believe she found great love and happiness in her new home and just never felt the need. Does anyone else have a theory?

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her newest release, The Magistrate’s Folly, is available now. And look for Diamond in the Rough, co-authored with Jennifer AlLee and coming May 1st.

24 comments:

  1. Wow. That is a fascinating story. I'd LOVE to have gotten to look into the apartment when it was first opened. Such beautiful things.

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  2. I know, right! It really would have been like stepping back into time. Right down to the stone sink. Hm, I wonder if the apartment is on the market now? With those gorgeous windows and the damask covered walls, I bet it was snapped up, assuming the heirs didn't keep it for themselves of course.

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  3. This story reminds me of Siri Mitchell's book Kissing Adrien.

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  4. That came out quite awhile ago didn't it, Dina? And it was a contemporary? I haven't read any of her contemporary stuff, but she is a fabulous writer. I should give it a try!

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  5. Wow, that's a fascinating story! How much did all the other stuff auction for?

    I'm surprised the owner of the apartment building never looked inside the room.

    Why the granddaughter never returned? Maybe she intended to, but then life got so busy that there was never time. Or maybe something memorable to HER was in there and going back would hurt too much.

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  6. Lisa, that was the first book of Siri's I read. It's a funny, romantic, chick lit type of book. One of my favorites. Then she went through sort of a dark, historical period. But now I think she's found her stride with sort of deep, literary type historicals, but not so dark.

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  7. My comment went away! I'll have to come back and redo it in a bit, but I loved this, Lisa. I always like this "off the beaten path" kind if thing.

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  8. i wonder how much that mickey mouse is worth

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  9. Hey Gina. I don't know how much the other stuff sold for, but just from the pictures there were a lot of other valuable paintings and things in the apartment. I don't know how much of it actually ended up being sold off vs. what was kept.

    Form a novelist's perspective, I like your option 2 much better!

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  10. Dina, I'm going to have to get a copy of that book.

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  11. Suzie, I'm so sorry your comment disappeared! I hate it when that happens.

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  12. Gina, I'd bet Mickey was worth a pretty penny too. It's vintage after all! From the 30's. Only one owner!

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  13. I think that Mickey is Steamboat Willie? It was the first thing I noticed when looking at the pictures. The ostrich was the second. I love quirky things like this. Love!

    The ostrich had me wondering if this lady had been on a safari. I created all sorts of scenarios in my head for the ostrich finding its way to her apartment. And then to languish all these years... At least it had Mickey for company.

    This was way cool, Lisa. I'm glad you shared it. Oh and that painting is stunning. I would love for it to hang on my wall.

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  14. I know Mickey was from the 30's, Suzie, but I don't know if it went as far back as Steamboat Willie.

    I think Boldini painted Marthe as a very sensual woman. The way he managed to capture the material of her dress and her hair is just amazing. She was definitely striking.

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  15. She never went back because she'd spent the last night there with her true love and she promised herself she'd never go back without him. Never knowing for sure if he died in the war she could never face entering the apt without him and waited all those years for him to meet her in their designated spot...
    She never saw him again but perhaps walked into his loving embrace for all eternity.

    sniff sniff.

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  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  17. I agree, Lisa. Marthe was stunning, and the painting was brilliant. That gown! Sigh... I really was happy when you showed how they proved Boldini painted her. I think there's a beautiful story here. Maybe a dual story like Susan Meissner writes. One about Marthe and Boldini, and one about an heir and how she continued the search to prove their relationship. And she finds love along the way, of course.

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  18. Suzie, you should totally write that book. In fact you could make your own novella collection using all three stories if you wanted!

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  19. Oh, and I would have to include that ostrich, of course!

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  20. WOW. That is so cool! It makes me wonder how many treasures are hiding out there in the world!

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  21. Totally, Niki. It could be in that old theater in downtown or tucked away in a crumbling house. You never know!

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  22. Amazing, Lisa. Thanks for sharing. Oh, how my imagination could run wild creating a background story!

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  23. Ain't that the truth, Susie! A story could go in so many different ways--all of them fascinating!

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