-- The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

 Marthe de Florian had an interesting life, to say the least. A French socialite and courtesan, she was born as Mathilde Héloïse Beaugiron on the 9th of September 1864 in Paris, the capital of France. She was notorious for having several well-known lovers such as Giovanni Boldini, Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, Georges Clemenceau, Robert de Montesquiou, Paul Deschanel, and Gaston Doumergue. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The city of Paris is split into 20 different arrondissements, which roughly translates to districts. Marthe de Florian was born in the 18th district and spent most of her younger years there. She was the eldest daughter of Jean Beaugiron and Henriette Eloïse Bara. She had three siblings; two were brothers, Jules Louis Beaugiron and Jules Beaugiron who died as infants, and a sister named Henriette Joséphine Beaugiron. She would later move to another apartment in Paris where she lived a pretty luxurious and happy life until she passed away on the 29th of August 1939. However, Marthe left behind some secrets (an apartment full of secrets, to be specific) that would shock her descendants and experts who eventually uncovered many details about her life that hadn’t been known previously.


Details of a French Society Family

On the 12th of October 1882, she gave birth to her first son at the age of 18. Named Henri Beaugiron, he was born in the 9th arrondissement at 69 Rue Condorcet. The baby’s paternity was never identified although Marthe de Florian stated that his profession was an embroiderer. Tragically, her first son passed away just three months after he was born.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

On the 7th of April 1884, she gave birth to her second child. Also named Henri Beaugiron, he was born at 100 Rue Saint-Lazare. He lived his life in Paris and passed away on May 12th, 1966. At the time of his death, he was residing at 2 Rue La Bruyère. Similar to his late brother, his paternity was unknown but there have been speculations that his father was Auguste Albert Gaston Florian Mollard, a married banker who was one of Marthe de Florian’s lovers. It is presumed that she took the name "de Florian" from Auguste. 


A Vibrant Area

Marthe de Florian had an apartment in Paris that wasn’t that far away from where she was born. Her 1500 square foot apartment was located in the 9th arrondissement in Paris; an apartment on the fourth floor at 2, Square La Bruyère. This apartment was on the edge of Montmartre, the epicenter of Paris’ late 19th century Belle Époque and home to many circuses, cinemas, and pimps.  It was also close to the Pigalle Red Light District. Some would recognize this area as the place where the movie Moulin Rouge was based.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

As you might have guessed from the description, the area her apartment was located in was pretty vibrant. Marthe de Florian spent most of her nights attending high profile events and functions. 


The Apartment Changes Hands

In 1939, Marthe de Florian passed away at the apartment. Her son, Henri Beaugiron was living with his mother at the time of her death and was the one to sign his mother’s death certificate. The midwife actually recorded her second son’s mother as Mathilde Vaugiron with no known occupation. In 1889, an addendum was written noting that Marthe de Florian recognized Henri as her son. There has been no explanation for the discrepancy; it might have been a simple mistake or a coverup for a child born out of wedlock. Henri Beaugiron became the owner of the apartment after the death of his mother. He had a daughter who also moved into the apartment with him. The name of his daughter has long been shrouded in mystery; this is mainly because France has extremely strict privacy laws that bans the media from being told her full or real name.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

But that has never stopped people from speculating. It is believed that the daughter’s name is Solange Beaugiron. She was a young playwright who wrote under the pseudonym “Solang Beldo”.  At 17, she wrote a play named “Miss Mary”. It was later found out that her manuscript was plagiarized and turned into a more successful play called “Heat Breast”. The case between her father and the company in question was eventually settled. Why her father? Because she was 17 and unable to take legal action herself. It was stated that her father was a pharmacist; this could be Henri Beaugiron.


Left Abandoned

Henri Beaugiron stayed in the same apartment at 2, Square La Bruyère until he died in 1966 according to death records. His daughter, who is assumed to be Solange Beaugiron, inherited the house after his death. During the time that she inherited the house, World War II struck and the Germans decided to invade the north of France. Fearing for her life, she escaped to the south of the country. She never returned and the reason was never disclosed, but she did continue paying the rent and all other expenses till her death in 2010. Since she never returned to visit the house, it was left in the exact same status as it was during that era. This was an apartment in Paris that was frozen in time. It contained a multitude of paintings, furniture, and other relics of the 20th century. Of course, they were all eaten by moths and smelling of old dust, but it was left alone for 70 years so that was understandable.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

Not many people knew of the granddaughter’s past in Paris and that she had such an apartment hidden. So, executors of her will decided to venture into the apartment with a few experts to investigate and assess the value of the contents in the apartment. 


Assessing The Riches Left Behind

This team was led by Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who was the executor of the apartment. Their main goal was to evaluate the value of the apartment and assets (if any) present inside the apartment.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

This team had no clue of what to expect and weren’t even sure if there was anything in the apartment at all or if the granddaughter had stripped it clean before she fled to the south of France.


An Unexpected Surprise 

But what they encountered inside was beyond their expectations entirely. One of the executors who was in the team that visited the apartment said the experience of walking through the apartment was similar to walking into the home of Sleeping Beauty. This reference was because the entire living space was furnished in the style of the Belle Époque. This isn’t a style from the 1940s era, instead, it was from the 1890s. This provided no answers, it only raised more questions. Why didn't Madame de Florian return to her property in Paris? Each room was in an almost working order, excluding a few decaying items of furniture. Every room in the spacious apartment was very well decorated and had enough furniture and other items to call it a fully furnished home.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

Of course, all of the items in the apartment were coated in multiple (and very thick) layers of dust but they had never been disturbed. Brush off the dust and it was a wealthy person’s apartment styled in an interior decor pattern that had been famous seventy years ago. The team who stepped into this time capsule described it as going back in time and that they felt like they had visited an alternative universe! There were grand-looking dressing tables, resplendent with old glass bottles of ancient perfume, paintings, a four-poster bed, precious jewels, and… many other objects, but more on that later.


A Glorious Era

The influences of the Belle Époque era were quickly recognized by the team of experts exploring the apartment. They could see that those who lived in that apartment had a very visible passion for all things art and literature. Again, this was common during the Belle Epoque, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. They also added that everything in the apartment displayed upper-class wealth and elegance, not in the least due to the vivid furnishings and well-appointed interior decor. The apartment did not show any sign of life after World War II. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

When the team pieced together all the information, we get a clear picture of a very well-cared for home that appeared to be the ancestral house of the family. This makes it all the more confusing because Marthe de Florian’s granddaughter never returned to her childhood home.


A Stylish Life

Inside the house were numerous luxury items and home furniture which indicated a sophisticated life for its inhabitants. The team commented that every item in the apartment were items that were possessed by the Parisien elite of the time.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

There was evidence that this apartment in Paris was the site of several lavish parties and events. The many perfumes and expensive dresses hidden inside the wardrobes were an indication.  The closets and drawers were overflowing with costly jewelry, fragrances and other clothes that were more often worn by rich women in Paris. The de Florian’s certainly seemed to have had interesting lives.


Dazzling Architecture

The team of experts who visited the apartment gushed about the beauty of its interiors. They said that the property had huge, tall windows that allowed each room an abundance of natural light. The windows had very thick and beautiful curtains that shut out the light for privacy. This was especially handy during nights when parties took place. Victorian chandeliers (which were the norm during that era) were used to light up the place and give a cozy and romantic touch to the entire room.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

For the evaluation team, it was like discovering a dream home - most had never seen such opulence.


Left To Rot

A large wooden dresser in the corner of one room was the subject of much interest. Brimming with expensive creams, perfumes, and various other beauty items - it was clear that the de Florian women wanted for nothing at all. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The team found it difficult to comprehend the luxurious life of the occupants of this apartment in Paris. Towards the dining area was a massive and beautifully crafted wooden dining table, a wooden stove, a sink made of stone, and a kitchen that still had all of its accessories including pots, pans, glassware, cutlery, and other dining items. It was awful to think that this place had just been left behind, how had this lavish life simply been abandoned?


Another Indicator of Status

As mentioned above, Marthe de Florian lived in the Belle Époque era where there was a major focus on art and creativity. Taxidermy was also something that could only be afforded by those of a certain standing in society. Marthe de Florian also had a range of stuffed animals, the most eye-catching being a large ostrich that stood in a corner of one of the rooms.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

As can be seen in the photo, there were also a couple of stuffed plush toys at the foot of the ostrich, of Porky the Pig and Mickey Mouse to be specific. These are estimated to have been made way before World War II. That means these toys were made 79 years ago at the very least!


Clues to the Departure

Although we know now that de Florian’s granddaughter fled the apartment in Paris because of Germany’s invasion of France in World War II, the experts who first visited the apartment weren’t aware. The granddaughter was now dead, so they sought answers. Their first clue was the several newspapers scattered over the apartment. These newspapers ran headlines about World War II and detailed all the events that were happening because of the war. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The experts then established their principal theory that Mrs. de Florian (as she is referred to by the French media) fled her apartment in Paris to escape the impending invasion of France. This also explains why she fled to the south, which was comparatively safer. It is the most likely reason why she left her childhood house in such a hurry, leaving it untouched and frozen in time.


Never Looked Back

Although Mrs. de Florian had moved to another address, she continued paying her rent as well as other expenses for the apartment. She fled to the south of France when she was 23 years old and continued as the owner of the apartment until she died from natural causes at the age of 91.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

Unfortunately, hardly anybody other than her know about the existence of this abandoned apartment in Paris. It is said that she hardly ever spoke about her life in Paris and many did not even know that she was once a resident of the capital, Paris. So, after she fled to the south, nobody ever tried to check up on the property. This meant no human entered it until she died, which then prompted the executors to make a visit to the house. For roughly 70 years, this apartment safely hid the entire family’s secrets and stories (under a thick cloud of dust).


A Precious Painting

Many beautiful artifacts were discovered during the investigation but they paled in comparison to the apartment’s most precious find. As the team carefully explored the apartment they came across a stunning painting of a well-dressed lady wearing a gown made of satin. Oliver Choppin-Janvry, a specialist in the field, speculated that this was the work of well known French artist, Giovanni Boldini but there was no signature on the painting so they could not say it was his work with confidence. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

Oliver Choppin-Janvry and the team had a suspicion that the woman in the painting was Marthe de Florian, the grandmother of the recently deceased lady. The team was astonished that this beautiful piece of art survived the looting that was very common during World War II. It is estimated that the looting that took place during the war caused the loss of almost 20 percent of artworks on the European continent. According to historians, nearly 100,000 pieces of art were never returned. Certainly, a sobering stat.


Who’s That Beauty?

In an almost Disney-like story arc, it was later discovered that the lady depicted in the painting was indeed Marthe de Florian. This painting was done during the period of time where she was a part of Les Demimondaines. Given the typical lifestyle lead by them, it is expected that she must have lived a life of exuberance with long periods of drinking, spending money on various activities, and regularly bringing lovers back to this lavish home.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

Unfortunately for the general public, the painting has never been on exhibition. There are no official records of the painting’s existence or any other details about it such as the date when it was painted.


Records Tell A Story

To find answers to their many questions, the team of investigators decided to go through the genealogical records available. These records revealed that Marthe de Florian was actually born Mathilde Beaugiron. It is assumed that she took on the former as a stage name. Although there are rumors that she a small-time actress, it is more likely that she was a courtesan. Prior to that, she was a seamstress. The team of experts came to the conclusion that she switched careers so that she could provide a better life for her son.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

As explained above, the same documents showed that her second son was registered to a different person but later changed to Beaugiron. Why that was done is something we probably will never know.


Bound in Ribbons

Another interesting find in the house was Marthe de Florian’s love letters. It was discovered that Marthe de Florian kept all the love letters she had received from various men. What was most intriguing was that she had carefully organized them in a colored ribbon system with a different color for each lover! They had been left exactly as she had left them. Her son and granddaughter had not attempted to move them either. 

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The letters that were sent to Marthe de Florian were from several men from the elite and upper-class families of Paris. These letters helped shed more light on the life of Marthe de Florian. It was discovered that she lived an elite life and was very popular among the upper-class crowd. The letters also showed that she left quite an impression on many of the lovers in her life!


A Dedicated Lover

Among the hoard of letters that the investigators found was one very interesting visiting card. It was found by Marc Ottavi, one of the members of the team. The visiting card had a love letter written on the back of it that was addressed to Marthe de Florian. What is so interesting about that? Well, it was signed by Giovanni Boldini, thus confirming the investigators’ suspicions that Giovanni Boldini was the painter behind the painting.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

If Giovanni Boldini was one of Marthe de Florian’s long string of lovers, there is not much doubt that he was the one who drew the painting. The investigators’ felt vindicated as they finally had the proof they needed. It was decided that the painting would go to auction.


Further Confirmation

Just before Choppin-Janvry and his team took the painting to the auction house, they were notified of a book that could be of assistance to them. The book was written by Emilia Cardona, Giovanni Boldini’s wife, about her own life.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The book revealed many interesting details about her relationship and marriage to Giovanni Boldini. More importantly, the team noticed a part in the book made reference to a remarkable painting. Emilia Cardona had written that her husband had once drawn Marthe de Florian when she was 24 years of age – this means the painting must have been painted in 1888, 130 years ago. Surely, this was the painting they had in front of them?


The Painting Goes to Auction

Now that they had all the pieces of the puzzle, the team took the art piece to the auctioning house in Paris. They set the starting value of the piece at 250,000 US dollars.

The Secret Hidden in the Heart of Paris for Nearly A Century

The painting drew a great deal of attention from art lovers. Ten bidders fought hard over the painting; no doubt inspired by the great story behind it. As the dust settled and the hammer knocked on the gravel for the last time, the painting’s price stood at around 2.5 million US dollars. To this date, it remains the most expensive painting by Giovanni Boldini. Someone has paid handsomely for a key clue to the life of Marthe de Florian.

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