For 68 years, a Paris apartment hid its secrets.

Pigalle flat3The facts are tantalizingly few. When in 2010 a 91-year-old woman died in the south of France, her estate was found to include a Paris apartment, situated somewhere between Pigalle and the Opera. The woman, Madame de Florian, had abandoned it in 1942, and for nearly 70 years, the forgotten apartment lay in darkness and dust.apartement3

She was then a young woman of 21. She seems to have fled in haste, leaving piles of papers and books on the tables, hairbrushes on the vanity, and a forlorn Mickey Mouse to keep company with a stuffed ostrich.apartement5

Paris real estate agents today would call the place a grand standing, and would sing the praises of its marble fireplaces, floor-to-ceiling windows, and spaciousness (140 square meters or ca. 1400 square feet).

But you can understand Madame de Florian’s reluctance to return to the flat. The Belle Epoque fussiness would have seemed old-fashioned already back in the Thirties. With its needlepoint chairs, silk damask walls, and elaborate drapes, it looks like the kind of suffocatingly bourgeois place in which Proust’s Odette might receive her gentleman callers.

apartement7Well, well. In fact it had been the home of a demimondaine, the girl’s aunt, Marthe de Florian. Dear old Tante Marthe was not just any grande horizontale. Judging by love letters from a certain Monsieur Clemenceau, later to be Prime Minister of France, and by the fashionable painter Boldini’s spectacular portrait of her showing off her impressive décolletage, the lady was quite in demand by illustrious gentlemen. 

It would be nice to think that some cultural institution, perhaps the Society for Aging Courtesans, might rush in to preserve this perfect time capsule. On the other hand, the formal decor is still cultivated by a certain kind of Parisian today. You could easily furnish a flat like this in no time with a bulging wallet and a quick trip to the Marche aux Puces.

In fact, maybe you can already pick up some of these very items at the flea market. Maybe already some new inhabitant has stripped the place, painted the walls red, and installed a stainless-steel kitchen to replace the old stone sink and wood-burning stove. Maybe another Prime Minister is already paying a visit.

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