A Gift for Rachel
At number 18 Avenue Montaigne, buy cialis one of the capital’s most unusual private mansions was built in the 19th Century. Dubbed la Maison Pompéienne (the Pompeian House), it was commissioned by Prince Napoléon on the site used for the fine arts pavilion
of the Exposition Universelle in 1855. Jérôme Napoléon (1822-1891), nicknamed Plon-Plon, was princess Mathilde’s brother, and the spitting image of his father, the King of Westphalia. A collector and theatre lover, Prince Napoléon enjoyed gathering the intellectual elite of the moment in his homes. Here, one could rub shoulders with writers such as Théophile Gautier, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve or Prosper Mérimée, as well as painters and actresses, including the great Rachel. It was, in fact, to honor Rachel, with whom the prince was very much in love, that he contracted this original and sumptuous palace.
Rachel Félix, 1821-1858
Between frescos and atriums
Its abundant and beautiful polychrome style was reminiscent of the patrician homes of Pompei, the famous Italian city buried in 79AD by the eruption of Vesuvius, which had, at that time, just been unearthed. After having first consulted Jacques Hittorf, the
architect known for having built the Gare du Nord, the prince finally chose Alfred Normand to head up the project. This architect had just spent five inspiring years in Rome working on an inventory of ancient monuments. The Maison Pompéienne, inaugurated on February 14, 1860, was greeted with general admiration. The public was not easily impressed, accustomed to seeing architectural imitations of high quality in this neighborhood. At number 20, there was a neo-gothic home built by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus for a Russian prince, and at number 22, stood the Moorish home of Jules de Lesseps.
Out of Antiquity
But here, everything was different: one felt truly transported to a sumptuous mansion out of Italian antiquity, with an atrium, and a mosaic floor, walls painted with deep red frescos, paintings by Jean-Léon Gérome and Pierre Cornu inspired by the Iliade and Greek mythology. A grand library, a collection of Egyptian
antiques, a Turkish bath with blue domes, a glass skylight, and a hall with a portico ensuring both physical and intellectual comfort. The inauguration, attended by Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie, was organized in grand style, animated by a play (“Le joueur de flute” by Emile Augier), a concert, and a banquet attended by everyone who was anyone in Paris society. The Maison Pompéienne seemed to promise a glowing future.
The architect’s despair
completion of the house. The Prince Napoléon then married Clotilde de Savoie, a profoundly religious woman: it was out of the question for her to live in the house conceived for her husband’s lover! What’s more, relations between Jérôme and the Emperor, his cousin, were strained. When he decided to establish residency outside of France, in Switzerland and Italy, he put the mansion up for sale in 1866. After a few years, despite a few offers, the house was abandoned and falling into ruins. Alfred Normand, who had made a name for himself by 1871 for his restoration of the Vendôme column and the Arc de Triomphe, witnessed bitterly the decline of his masterpiece. The Maison Pompéienne was torn down in 1891. All that remains of it today are a few rare photos, some sketches in sumptuous colors exhibited at the Museum of Decorative Arts, and a memory made even more splendid by the passing of time.