Before the start of World War II, the French Army had been considered by many as the most dominant in Europe, but this proved to be wrong, and on 14th June 1940 German tanks swept into Paris.
By this time, around four-fifths of the citizens had fled the city and headed towards the south to the Unoccupied Zone of France. A great number of the Parisians that fled the city hours before the German invasion never came back home and never saw their belongings again.
Among these people that were forced to flee the city was the 23-year-old Solange Beaugiron. She left all her possessions in the apartment located at 2, Square La Bruyère in the 9th arrondissement of Paris; fled to the French Riviera in 1942 and never returned. It is little known why Beaugiron never went back to the apartment or why she never rented it out.
Beaugiron died in 2010 at the age of 91, and that is when her heirs were informed about the apartment in Paris, which is very close to Pigalle red-light district in Paris’ 9th Arrondissement. They were curious to see the apartment and immediately went to Paris where they hired an auctioneer to estimate its contents.
Upon opening the door, they found themselves “transported” to another era back to the time of the Belle Époque. They were astonished to find out that for 70 years the apartment remained untouched with all of Beaugiron’s belongings covered with dust, but perfectly preserved.
This luxurious apartment was furnished in the style of the Belle Époque with high wooden ceilings, paintings, and an elegant dressing table, completed with make-up, perfumes, lotions, brushes, and jewels. There were also some unusual things like taxidermy ostrich, Mickey Mouse, and Porky the Pig toy, both dating from the period before the war.
However, what caught the attention of the auctioneer was a painting of a woman in a pink muslin dress. This seemed to be something very special, and after he had a closer look, he came to a conclusion that it was painted by 19th century Italian artist, Giovanni Boldini.
Boldini’s beautiful woman in a pink muslin dress turned out to be his muse and the grandmother of the 23-year-old girl who abandoned the apartment back in 1942. Her name was Mathilde Héloïse Beaugiron, but she is better known as Madame Marthe de Florian.
Although Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842, by 1871, he had settled in Paris where he would reach his peak of creativity and would become one of the best-known Italian painters. He met Madame Marthe de Florian in 1880s, and she eventually became his muse and lover.
This beautiful woman was a little-known actress and demimondaine (courtesan) during the Belle Époque. Boldini was just one of her famous lovers that included: Georges Clemenceau, who was the Prime Minister of France during the First World War, Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (51st Prime Minister of France), Paul Deschanel (11th President of France), and Gaston Doumergue (13th President of France).
The auctioneer, Olivier Choppin-Janvry, could not confirm that it was Boldini’s painting until he discovered a love letter in the apartment that proved that the long-lost painting was original Boldini. “We had the link, and I was sure at that moment that it was indeed a very fine Boldini,” Olivier Choppin-Janvry told The Telegraph. Boldini completed the work in 1888 when Madame Marthe de Florian was only 24 years old. The starting price for the painting was £253,000, but ten bidders pushed its final sale to astonishing £1.8 million.
Madame Marthe de Florian died in the apartment in 1939, and the apartment was eventually inherited by her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, who locked it up in 1942 and never came back.