The greening of…
Avenue Montaigne loves greenery. While so many streets of the French capital are devoid of trees –the city has less than 100, check ailment 000 in all– this avenue has carefully preserved hers. Time having taken its toll, the oaks planted in double rows so long ago by the Marquis Marigny are gone, replaced by oh-so-Parisian chestnut trees that drop their fruit with the first cold snap.
Today one can count nearly 200 of these trees along the 615 meters of the avenue. But other flora flourishes here as well : look up and you’ll discover Virginia creeper climbing certain buildings and knobby tree trunks in the courtyard of number 18.
Avenue Montaigne also boasts refined mini-gardens in front of its principal facades. This tradition brings to mind the little English gardens designed to brighten basement-level shops and workshops. What was their exact origin ?
It was a decree of September 11, 1860 defining a three-meter-wide, non-con-structible zone in front of the buildings at numbers 58, 60 and 63, and outlining the installation of enclosed gardens. Other owners on the street, eager to duplicate this good idea, contributed to this pleasing aspect of Avenue Montaigne. Who could image the street today without its gracious boxwood scrubs behind wrought iron gates crowned with gilded spikes?
Avenue Montaigne is an interesting gallery of architecture. It retains venerable mansions that have witnessed the great moments of history. Number 9 was the home of the Countess de Durfort, Chateaubriand’s great niece.
Built in 1883 by Trilhe and Guinot, it has a superb wooden entrance and monumentally high ceilings. At number 50 is another exceptional private mansion with an imposing triangular fronton, once the home of the Countess de Lariboisiere. Behind its stone façade ornamented with a beautiful floral cartouche, the interiors were completely redesigned in the 1990’s. A skylight now illuminates the garden graced with pools and benches in animal forms.
Next to Dior
The list of exceptional mansions would be incomplete without mentioning the Hotel Boselli, at number 30, a jewel of the 17th century with its ornamented balcony, its helixes and decorative mascarons. Its name would mean little to the general public if not associated with a significant event. For it was here on February 12, 1947 in rooms
decorated by Victor Grandpierre that a collection destined to mark the history of fashion was presented: le New Look of Christian Dior. The designer had moved to this address a year earlier and since then the mansion has remained the headquarters of Dior haute couture.
Napoléon III Style…
If you walk past number 28, look up. The mansion once located here was occupied by the Countess de Castiglione from 1857 to 1859. This beautiful courtesan who fought for the unification of Italy was at one time Napoleon III’s mistress. One evening in 1857 when leaving his mistress’s house, the emperor was attacked by three Italian patriots. This episode, during which Napoleon was not harmed, was the avant-goût of the Orsini attack that took place a year later.
The building that now stands at this address no longer dates from this time, however several examples of the Haussmanienne architecture of the period have been preserved on the avenue. One recognizes these buildings by their welldefined dimensions : often located on corners, with salient angles and balconies running the length of the façade, generally on the second and fifth floors.
The call of art
Does beauty attract beauty ? It’s very likely. The power of attraction of luxury trades and high fashion is such that great names of the art world have been drawn to the Avenue Montaigne. The Hotel-Drouot, legendary Parisian auction house, opened Drouot-Montaigne at the Studio des Champs-Élysées, creating a privileged place for the most prestigious sales by auction. On the other side of the Avenue, Artcurial has moved to
the former private mansion of Marcel Dassault, where the pages of Jours de France were once edited. Constructed in 1844 during the reign of Louis Philippe, the building was transformed in 1952. It retains its gilded balconies so gracefully curved, but has
recently acquired a very contemporary interior since the transformation orchestrated by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Artcurial, which began as a bookstore and gallery, has grown and today includes a cafe and several auction rooms.
Heading into the 20th Century
The contemporary period is, of course, not absent here. There are, to begin with, the avenue’s two metro stations, Alma Marceau and Franklin Roosevelt, both dating back to the first quarter of the 20th century. And there are beautiful relics of the Art Deco style that flourished in Paris from 1925 on. One notable example is the door of what was
formerly the Callot sisters’ home at number 41, a masterpiece of glass and metal, and at the pediment of number 26, constructed in 1937 by the architect
Duhayon, is a sensual bas-relief of three dancing muses. After the Second World War, creativity did not wane as illustrated by the curved balconies at numbers 35 and 46, designed by architects Bodecher, or the original geometric façade at number 17 by architects Khandjian. Avenue Montaigne was not afraid of a touch of modernism…