Remembering Comtesse Greffulhe

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Comtesse Greffulhe photographed by Nadar in Worth

Marcel Proust is very much in fashion in France. Is it the socialist government who needs to dream about the Belle Epoque or is snobism just an escape from dreary daily life?
One thing is sure, the biography of Comtesse Greffulhe by Laure Hillerin (published by Flammarion) was a hit for Christmas and its career keeps on growing thanks to a series of « musical evenings » organised in private houses in Paris.

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A beautiful Steinway in an artist’s studio near Pont Royal was the key to success last night. The actor, Clément Goyard was a perfect Proust and Chloé Donn a lively Comtesse, but mostly the amazing letters read with music by César Franck, Gabriel Fauré and Erik Satie, were sending us back to the fastuous 1900’s.
Comtesse Greffulhe was one of the society ladies featured as Duchesse de Guermantes in « Remembrance of things past » by Marcel Proust. She also happens to be my great grand-mother…
Her very aldulterous husband, Henry Greffulhe, spent his life shooting and womanising. And being jealous of her successful salon. She was beautiful, a good painter and she focused – with her friend Robert de Montesquiou – on sponsoring Wagner and the Ballets Russes, entertaining great scientists and defending Captain Dreyfus, which was not common in high society at the time. She never read Proust who was obsessed with her and gave her an eternal life in his works as did Nadar with his photographs of her in full beauty.
Next year, Palais Galliera in Paris and the F.I.T in New York, will present an exhibition of her dresses designed by Worth and Fortuny. If you read French, the biography will bring you a sense of how a pure aristocrat with a lot of money could take over political and artistic life in Paris !

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Comte Armand Ghislain de Maigret and Jean-Louis Poirey both knew Elisabeth Greffulhe as little boys and had never met before!

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3 Comments on “Remembering Comtesse Greffulhe”

  1. Marine

    Dear Laure,
    I love your blog.
    You possess an exquisite style in english of telling stories and keeping the reader faithful on keeping reading the following blog on a weekly basis .
    So far, the article about Comtesse Greffulhe is my favorite.
    Thank You.

  2. Gérard Fontaine

    Merci, Laure, de nous parler de la comtesse Greffulhe et du livre de Laure Hillerin, que j’ai, pour ma part, beaucoup aimé.
    Je connaissais, comme tout le monde, l’image très sophistiquée de la Comtesse Greffulhe, l’inspiratrice de Proust, celle qui avait porté les éblouissantes toilettes de Worth conservées au musée du costume. Un jour, par hasard, j’avais aussi découvert au musée Carnavalet un portrait de l’abbé Mugnier; mal présenté dans le rebicoin d’un couloir, mal éclairé, recouvert d’un verre qui reflétait tous les spots des environs, ce tableau avait, néanmoins, une force de vérité peu commune; en m’approchant, je découvris avec stupeur que la comtesse Greffuhle en était l’auteur. Un peu plus loin, tout en haut d’une cimaise du même couloir, je dénichais aussi l’auto-portrait d’une femme charmante, élégante certes mais sans cette imperceptible distance que suggèrent d’autres portrait, tel celui de Laszlo. Je me dis qu’une telle femme ne pouvait se réduire à l’imagerie simpliste qui en avait été gardée et ce livre, appuyé sur un travail de documentation exemplaire, le démontre avec une grande finesse. Ta chronique me donne l’occasion d’en féliciter son auteur et de l’en remercier. Et de te remercier, toi aussi, pour tes chroniques si diverses et si intéressantes.
    Love, Gérard

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