Sunday, April 7, 2019

Hôtel Lauzun, Hôtel Lambert on Île Saint-Louis - Charles Baudelaire, Alexis de Redè - A Closer Look

Hôtel Lambert when Guy and Marie-Hélène de
Rothschild Resided from Alidad Instagram

"Who wouldn’t want to know about the characters who commissioned and designed the structures, or inhabited them, who ate, drank, did drugs, wrote..." ( discusses two Île Saint-Louis townhouses, Hôtel Lambert and Hôtel de Lauzun, their history, architects, interiors, owners, artistic and literary occupants.)

Hôtel Lauzun, Hôtel Lambert on Île Saint-Louis - Charles Baudelaire, Alexis de Redè - A Closer Look

Every time I saunter onto the Île Saint-Louis, I’m knocked over by the Parisians’ knack for living well. I’m not saying Île Saint-Louis has the highest real estate values in Paris, Avenue Foch where Onassis lived, a neighborhood with Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals, probably wins that prize. I’m simply saying I’m drawn to Île Saint-Louis’s opulent charm and more intimate environment. Particularly to its famous 17th-century “hotel particuliers,” or palatial townhouses, Hôtel Lambert and Hôtel de Lauzun.

To be interested in a monument-protected section of Paris with historical ties to the ancien régime and French nobility, some will sniff, is stale elitist garbage. I’m interested however in diverse locations, and one of my favorite Parisian restaurants is located in a banlieu that has a few burned-up cars.

It was Honoré de Balzac, I think, who told us Parisians feel their own glory passionately. When the fruits of that glory are Baroque architecture, and ravishing interiors, you can bet I’ll want to check out the sensualists who participated. Who wouldn’t want to know about the characters who commissioned and designed the structures, or inhabited them, who ate, drank, did drugs, wrote and performed music. Chopin for instance, who attended salons at Hôtel Lambert in the 1830s, Voltaire for example, who shacked-up with the Marquise du Chatelet in the same house in the 1740s. Voltaire's letters praising another woman’s private parts actually make me blush.

Interior apartment Baron Alexis de Redé Hôtel Lambert
Hôtel Lauzun, rococo interior
Hôtel Lauzun Courtyard

Gawking at the façade of Hôtel Lauzun, owned by the City of Paris since 1928, leased to the Paris Institute for Advanced Study since 1913, I recall pictures of its painted ceilings and gilded carvings. Its ornamental interiors are priceless. The guy who built Hôtel Lauzun in the 1650s, Charles Gruyn des Bordes, had the bad fortune to be a buddy of Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, who owned Vaux-le-Vicomte, at least until he made the mistake of inviting the King to tour his chateau and gardens. The King became enraged when he discovered his minister Fouquet lived in a finer palace than he did, figured Fouquet stole from the crown, confiscated Vaux-le-Vicomte, and imprisoned Fouquet. Des Bordes also went to prison.

One easily understands why the Sun King got annoyed, Vaux-le-Vicomte which was built by the King’s architect Louis Le Vau is a masterpiece of French Classical Baroque architecture, and the King had not yet built Versailles. Vaux-le-Vicomte's design greatly influenced the design of Versailles. In a wink to Fouquet's refined taste, and to her hound’s imperious manner, my sister Yvonne named her large poodle Nicolas Vaux-le-Vicomte. We call him Nic. Nic’s aristocratic name doesn't stop him from killing the neighbor's chickens.

Des Bordes’ downfall gave the Duc de Lauzun, who had just departed prison for disobeying the King, the opportunity to buy the Paris property from Des Bordes' family.  Surprisingly, the mansion survived the Revolution.

After subsequent owners divided the house into apartments, Baudelaire rented one in 1843, and there wrote some of the sensual poems that comprise Les Fleurs du Mal. Tennyson found the collection of poetry shocking, but Victor Hugo labeled it dazzling. When Les Fleurs du Mal was printed in 1857 it caused a ruckus, the government censored it for offending public morals. By this point, prudery and hypocrisy had gone too far, wasn’t Napoleon III’s philandering common knowledge? Flaubert’s literary masterpiece had been similarly censored, it wouldn't do if fictional Emma Bovary's hanky-panky caused young girls or married nitwits to behave improperly.

Baudelaire’s time in his second floor apartment at Hôtel Pimodan which Hôtel Lauzun was then called was not very long, because he had plowed through the inheritance passed on from his father. The poet could not resist spending on dandyish clothes, for one. It’s worth mentioning he decorated his apartment with Delacroix’s art.  Biographies note that Delacroix’s Women of Algiers hung in Baudelaire’s flat. If this is indeed the 1834 version of Women of Algiers, the painting now in the Louvre, I lose my composure imagining what it's like to live with such a jewel. Baudelaire may have been indigent, dependent on laudanum, and syphilitic, but during his Hôtel Lauzun episode it seems he possessed one of the most remarkable artworks of the 19th century.

Baudelaire also blew money on getting stoned. During his time in the house he was a member of "Club des Hashischins," a group of writers and artists who gathered to conduct monthly séances and get high, and undoubtedly chit-chat about art and literature. Among those who attended these soirées were Hugo, Daumier, and Edouard Manet.

For some, hash was the drug of choice, such as Théophile Gautier who wrote it made his body feel like it was transparent, and spinning with astonishing speed. Sounds about right. Baudelaire described getting lit on opium and hashish in Les Paradis Artificiels (1852). I thank biographer Joanna Richardson for mentioning that one of Baudelaire's drug-use goals was to recall past lives. Balzac on the other hand was disappointed in his altered states, dope was a waste of money, his mind was too rational to hear voices or become ecstatically transported by the apartment’s gilt carvings or paintings.

Many years after these gatherings on Île Saint-Louis, Baudelaire’s astonishing verse became widely recognized as representing poetry's shift to modernity. Another thing that became clear in hindsight is that Baudelaire was incubating aesthetic theories as well as a poetic style of prose that helped to sweep dust off exceedingly dreary art criticism.

Hôtel Lambert Exterior

After taking a petite break to knock back a bottle of Chateau Corbin St-Emilion with Donnie, I stand in front of the Hôtel Lambert and think of another individual connected to the neighborhood. This dude is bloody irresistible.

Among the fictional characters I studied in Balzac’s La Comédie humaine when I was in graduate school, my favorite was Eugène de Rastignac, a nobody from the provinces who social-climbed his way to celebrated status in Paris. So how could I not be intrigued by a real-life arriviste who was in fact labeled “the Eugène de Rastignac of modern Paris,” especially one who had the good taste to live in a sumptuous apartment in Hôtel Lambert on Île Saint-Louis?

From the 1940s until his 2004 death at 82 years old, Alexis de Redè occupied a second floor apartment in the seventeenth century hôtel particulier, Hôtel Lambert, built by Louis XIV’s architect Le Vau about five years before he built Hôtel Lauzun. In his autobiography, the Rastignac of modern Paris was candid about the fact that his married lover Arturo Lopez-Willshaw subsidized his grand seigneur lifestyle in that sumptuous environment. Possibly 
De Redè targeted him knowing Lopez-Willshaw gave his wife a Versailles-like chateau, and gave a previous lover expensive eighteenth century furniture including a bed owned by Antoinette. De Redè ultimately became a talented money manager and big-deal investment guy, with the Stones for clients. More than anything, hands down, he was known for his exquisite taste.

At the time financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert commissioned Le Vau to build Hôtel Lambert, in about 1640, Le Vau brokered-out the home’s interior décor to Charles Le Brun who was the King’s court painter. Le Brun personally painted the ceiling for Hôtel Lambert’s Gallery of Hercules.

Architect Le Vau must have been pleased with the location because he constructed his own residence on the property and lived there until his death in 1670. Following this, the La Haye family owned the mansion, then the aforementioned Marquise du Chatelet who desired Voltaire at her famed salons, and also in the sack. Unfortunately he dropped her. The Marquise sold the house to the family that hosted Chopin’s performances, along with Liszt, Delacroix and Balzac, from which Lopez-Willshaw and De Redè acquired it.

After Lopez-Willshaw kicked the bucket in 1975, De Redè persuaded his good friends Baron Guy de Rothschild and his wife Marie-Hélène de Rothschild to purchase the place for their Paris residence, they could all be together. The Rothschilds sold the Hôtel Lambert to Prince Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani, brother of the Emir of Qatar, who did restoration. A terrible irony is that Prince Al-Thani’s restoration caused a fire in 2013 that damaged the Gallery of Hercules, which is now restored. Before he died, De Redè was appointed Commandeur des Arts et Lettres for his fabulous restoration of the Lambert.

I’m partial to red-toned damask fabric, and continually incorporate it into my own décor, regardless of Donnie's objections. "It's girlie!" This and my love of classical interiors and European decorative arts, tell you why I'm captivated by the houses' interiors. Try to imagine living with a Louis XV chandelier. The aesthete De Redè had one, auctioned by Sotheby's in 2005. "I live for elegance and taste," De Redè said in his autobiography.

At the time Christie's auctioned Madame Lopez-Willshaw’s Saint-Tropez villa, Architectural Digest recounted the story of De Redè, Lopez-Willshaw, and Madame Lopez-Willshaw’s very civilized Parisian ménage à trois, and rather cleverly referred to De Redè as Lopez-Willshaw’s “Antinous,” associating him with Emperor Hadrian’s beautiful male lover.  The magazine further described Hôtel Lambert as the most desirable private residence on Île St. Louis. Clearly, if “Antinous” got to decorate the most desirable private residence on Île St. Louis with Lopez-Willshaw’s check-book, he had a hell of-a-lot to work with.

Video - Sotheby's Auction Items from Hôtel Lambert October 11-14, 2022

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