When auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvy entered the dust-covered Parisian flat to take inventory of the deceased owner’s possessions, he likened it to “stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900.”
Among the many treasures found was a stunning Giovanni Boldini portrait of an actress who went by the name of Marthe de Florian. De Florian had been the muse and lover of the Italian-born Boldini when the portrait was painted.
The cobweb-filled flat in the 9th arrondissement was owned by de Florian’s granddaughter, who had left Paris shortly before World World II to live in the South of France. Despite having never returned to visit the flat, located between the Pigalle red light district and the Opera, the woman faithfully paid for the rent and upkeep.
Among the other items found in the apartment were passionate love letters tied with colored ribbons. Powerful men were among de Florian’s many admirers, but it was the calling card with a scribbled love note from Giovanni Boldini that confirmed the auctioneer’s suspicions about the painting’s identity.
The mystery of the painting deepened when no mention of the piece could be found in any record or account of Boldini’s work. After searching through all the Boldini literature, they were able to locate a single reference to the painting, made in a book written by Boldini’s widow of all people. Through this book, they were able to discover that the painting dated back to 1898 when de Florian was 24 years old. This is the only mention of the painting in any literature.
The painting has since been sent to auction and sold for just over 2 million euro. It is no doubt that this incredible story played a large part in the many interested buyers.