At his conference at Sotheby’s, Pierre Arizzoli Clementel, who used to be Director of Versailles for 15 years, had the perfect voice for telling the magical story of Charles de Beistegui‘s life and style. The book he just wrote, based on the 35 watercolors by Alexandre Serebriakoff of château de Groussay, is important: it is the only thing left from this lifelong decor, created an hour west of Paris in Montfort l’Amaury. When Beistegui’s nephew, Johnny, decided to sell the house in June 1999, everyone suddenly realized what a world was disappearing with this 1820 style house. With the collaboration of interior architect Emilio Terry and the constant advice of Charles de Noailles, Groussay had been the center of elegance until 1970.
Beistegui met Emilio Terry in Biarritz in 1922 and they died the same within a month of each other in December 18969 and January 1970. This elegant resort on the border of Spain, attracted the very chic Spanish, Latin American and French society around the Hotel du Palais built for Empress Eugénie, Napoléon III’s wife, who was Spanish. Beistegui was also Spanish of Basque origins, and represented Spain as Consul General in Paris during the war. As such he fed and helped many people. He is most famous for a unique masked ball he gave at Palazzo Labia, in Venice on September 3, 1951.
The artist, Alexandre Serebriakoff, was born in the province of Koursk, (now Ukraine) in 1907. His mother, Zenaide was a famous painter, and his grandfather, Evgueni Lanceray a sculptor of French origins whose father was a major in Napoleon’s army and had remained in Russia. The revolution forces them out of the country and in 1925, they settle in Paris where he dies in 1995, having never returned to Russia. His first paintings are bright views of Paris which he sells to tourists, and he creates decors for ballets with Alexandre Benois, and paints lampshades! His encounter with Beistegui takes place in 1941 thanks to Louis Metman, curator in chief of Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Later Serebriakoff will paint interiors for Arturo Lopez, Alain de Rothschild avenue Marigny, Madame Eugène Schneider, Robert de Balkany and Elie and Liliane de Rothschild but not, strangely enough, for Charles de Noailles. His watercolors are forever associated to the Style Rothschild in Ferrières but it was Beistegui who gave him his chance. In the album, we also discover his painting of the Palazzo Labia ball depicting “The arrival of Catherine II, Empress of Russia” (Princess Chavchavadze) on a long decorated boat.
Groussay was photographed by Cecil Beaton and the famous theatre finished in 1957, was inaugurated by the most famous actors o the time including Georges Descrières and a very young Annie Girardot in “La Fausse Suivante” by Marivaux. I myself attended a small charity recital organized by Father Eugène Merlet in 1991, to profit “Pro Musicis”, with Natalie Dessay singing “The Queen of the night” and I will never forget this moment. The combination of perfect music, a young singer, and this unique decor wa extraordinary!
The research work produced by Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel is amazing. He thanks at the end of the book, Princesse Gaby d’Arenberg, one of the last living witnesses of the period. But as a curator of Decorative arts and of Versailles, he managed to find out about the paintings, fabrics, books and furniture collected by Beistegui. His descriptions are never tedious: he makes you visit the place like a lively guide. This book published by Gourcuff-Gradenigo (Alain de Gourcuff is the son of law of Johnny de Beistegui and had prime access to the famous Serebriakoff album), is a sum of information on decoration and style. The bathrooms were inspired by English castles with wooden coffrage for the tub and the sink. Emilio Terry had his own bedroom. The different follies created in the park around 1962, are also in the book.
The whole album makes you dream of old times…
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