The Remarkable ‘Time Capsule’ Apartment of Madame de Florian.

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The Remarkable ‘Time Capsule’ Apartment of Madame de Florian.

Every once in an increasingly great while you chance upon a circumstance which puts a smile on your face and warms your very cockles. My day was certainly brightened when this story broke in 2010 about a forgotten pre-war apartment discovered untouched in Paris.

The apartment of Madame Marthe de Florian in the 9th Arondissement of Paris

The apartment of Madame Marthe de Florian in the 9th Arondissement of Paris

Imagine an affluent lady, an actress and demimondaine, living in a Grand Boulevard apartment near the old Opera House in Paris during the early years of the last century. A child of La belle Epoch, her home is a treasure trove, busy with fine furniture, artwork and

The eclectic taste of Madame de Florian: 18th Century furniture, 19th Century taxidermy, 20th Century art, and a pre-war Mickey.

The eclectic taste of Madame de Florian: 18th Century furniture, 19th Century taxidermy, 20th Century art, and a pre-war Mickey.

decorative furnishings. Her many admirers have been generous. She has an eye for quality and the wherewithal to indulge her taste. She lives with exquisite antiques spanning ages of French history, as well as select works informed by the latest artistic movements. Her apartment reflects the full and hectic life of an actress and a socialite during a golden age.

Abruptly, her life was interrupted as France, Europe, the whole world was torn by the madness of World War II. As the Nazi occupation engulfed Paris, Madame de Florian fled to the relative safety of the South of France. She left her apartment as it was, en dishabille, with even a collection of love letters neatly bundled with a blue ribbon. She simply turned the key in her apartment door and escaped to the distant countryside. But unlike all of her peers, when the war ended and the menace was gone, she did not return. Perhaps her sensitive artistic soul could not bear to revisit the scene of earlier horrors. Perhaps she dreaded the ruin and change wrought in her beloved Paris. Whatever her reason, she remained in the South and never returned to her apartment. But she continued to pay the rent for the rest of her life, and so none else ever returned to her apartment either… for over 70 years!

Portrait of Madame Marthe de Florian by Giovanni Boldini, circa 1898.

Portrait of Madame Marthe de Florian by Giovanni Boldini, circa 1898; previously unknown, found in the apartment and subsequently solds for $3.4 million.

When she passed away at the age of 91, her heirs discovered that she owned this lease in Paris.  Can you imagine setting foot in a home where no one has trod for a lifetime? Think of the thrill to experience what has been untouched and undisturbed for generations? The first person to enter after all those years described a ‘smell of old dust’… and then started to notice the treasures. They said they felt as if they had slipped into the private chambers of Sleeping Beauty. Madame de Florian’s home, with the exception of one painting, remains undusted and untouched to this day.

An amazing situation, but not unique. Many people have enjoyed, or at least know of family summer homes that have changed little over the years. I was lucky as a child to spend time in the summers at an Adirondack period cottage on a lake in Maine, still pristine with hand-pumped water from the well, outdoor privy in the woodshed, and minimal electricity just encroaching on the oil lamps. The craftsman’s architectural style was beautiful and comforting, with clean wainscoting, built-in corner cabinets, semi-open staircase, and exposed beams. My grandfather’s room had a pine wash stand with pitcher of water and basin, and the chamber pot in the cubby below. I still love all those kitchen gadgets and ware: the wire baskets, racks and skewers for cooking on wood fires, stoneware, and lovingly dinged enameled tinware. The built-in cabinets held a mystery of toys and games from a much earlier time. We ate, worked and relaxed on the wide screened porch with wicker and rockers, plank tables and benches.

Antique lakefront cottage in Maine.

Antique lakefront cottage in Maine.

I have been very lucky on Nantucket to have been welcomed over the years into many homes that were truly time capsules, barely touched by the passing of time. I am still moved by an historic home in the center of town, where the clock stopped at the turn of the century. The furniture remains in their exact spots, the art original, the knickknacks and personal mementos are those of the former owner, the very books on the bedside shelf are those chosen and placed there nearly a hundred years ago! The house is a home, yet also a shrine. In a different house, with different people and a different history, this could verge on the creepy. In this case however, it is more akin to a brilliant installation, a tableau vivant.

Along upper Main Street on Nantucket: one never knows what waits behind those walls.

Along upper Main Street on Nantucket: one never knows what waits behind those walls.

There is another house, a Main Street dowager, where the furnishings have remained intact through generations of the same family for over 200 years. One sits in the same chair, at the same table on the same hand knotted carpet as did the Captain when he returned from whaling voyages before America won its independence. One looks about at the paintings and porcelains chosen and cherished by the first generation. The closets and attic hold all the family correspondence, hand written copies of letters sent, bills and invoices, complete and intact dating back from the first settlers. A nod to modern change and progress: the cabled bells to summon a particular servant from their attic quarters.

The beauty and thrill of these ‘time capsules’ is not just the great collections of period antiques. It is not just a matter of being amazed at the rare circumstance. It is more the breathless wonder of stepping physically into the past. You are not a spectator viewing antiques in a museum. You are a privileged guest, alive and well in the distant past, able this once to see and feel how life was lived. This rare trick of fate brings you into the reality of the past, rather than just imagining history as one tries through books, films and museums. It is the beauty and magic of antiques.

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The photographs of the de Forian apartment have been published widely on the web: sources include Drouot Auctions, Urban Archeology, Home and Garden, Inspirationsdeco, and the Huffington Post.

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Visit www.nantucketchronicle.com/ , your free online resource for everything Nantucket. By Nantucketers, for Nantucketers.

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Please excuse any annoying advertisements that may appear below this. The intrusion is on the part of the hosting site, and is in no way endorsed by the Antiques Depot.

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Netsuke.

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  • Know Your Netsuke. ivory netsukeEveryone is intrigued by netsuke. Year after year people come through my shop and ask about them… as well they should! Netsuke are endlessly fascinating, beguiling even, and so extremely collectible.What are those clever little carved ivory sculptures? What were they used for? Where are they from? Are they always made of ivory?

First things first: netsuke is pronounced “net-skeh”, perhaps with just a hint of “net-skee”. The Japanese word comes from the characters “root” and “to attach” and is best defined as a toggle,used as a clothing accessory. Japanese kimono and kosode (a shorter and looser fitting kimono for everyday use) have no pockets; any personal objects like money, medicines, pipes and tobacco, had to be carried in sagemono (small containers) which were hung from the obi (sash) on cords that were prevented from sliding out from under the obi by the carved toggle or button-like netsuke fastened at the end.

Illustration of a netsuke in use: the sagemono is suspended from a netsuke which is caught on the top edge of the obi.

Illustration of a netsuke in use: the sagemono is suspended from a netsuke which is caught on the top edge of the obi.


Lacquered Inro

Lacquered Inro – a highly prized type of sagemono with a series of compartments for carrying small objects

History:Netsukes were exclusively Japanese. Their greatest period of production and popularity was during the Edo Period when Japan was unified under the feudal shogun from 1603 to 1868. Like all great folk art from around the world, these utilitarian objects came to imbue great artistry and craftsmanship, and their infinitely varied design reflected every aspect of Japanese culture, history and folklore. The form of netsuke is limited only by the skilled artist’s imagination. All these factors of age, scarcity, quality, particular artist, style or form, cultural significance and reference, add to making netsuke so desirable to collectors. The fact that they are so small (most are only one to two inches across), and available at so many different price levels, make netsuke the perfect collectible antique. We think netsuke are endlessly fascinating, and try to always have a few choice pieces in stock at the Antiques Depot nantucketantiquesdepot.com

Types: Netsukes were made in several broad categories. The most common and popular type is the Katabori or sculptural netsuke depicting three-dimensional figures.

Very old Bone Shishi or Fu Dog netsuke

Very old Bone Shishi or Fu Dog Katabori netsuke

Next in popularity are Men netsuke, miniature carved masks from kabuki and noh theatre. Sashi netsuke are in the form of long and slender sticks, and Anabori are hollowed out objects such as puzzle balls or clam shells with intricate interiors.

Very old ivory Sashi netsuke

Very old ivory Sashi netsuke

Manju are flattened ovoid “stones”, sometimes made in two pieces, and the related Ryusa are carved and pierced like lace (similar to the puzzle balls).

Manju netsuke

Manju netsuke

Ryusa netsuke

Dragonfly Manju Ryusa netsuke

Most clever are the Karakuri or trick netsuke which include moving parts or hidden surprises. The carving is often enhanced with engraving and variously colored pigments, and more rarely inlay with metals or precious materials.

It is the wonderful, clever and evocative subjects that make netsuke so appealing. Japan during the Edo period was adamantly isolated from the outside world, so its culture evolved in a spectacularly unique fashion. As a consequence netsuke provide an intimate reflection upon Japanese life and lore of the time. The artistic expressions give us a glimpse into their domestic life and objects, trades, professions, crafts, food, religion, folklore, and types of people and creatures, both real and imagined. It is fascinating to observe how the chosen subject matter changes from early in the period when Japanese culture was largely influenced by the Chinese, to later in the period when indigenous Japanese motifs prevail.

Materials: The most popular material for crafting netsuke during the Edo and early Meiji periods was elephant ivory. Unfortunately this proclivity continued through the 20th Century, and many modern reproductions were made in the illegal Hong Kong ivory craft shops even while elephants were being poached below endangered levels. This trade in contraband netsuke has been curtailed to a great extent, but still continues and a collector must be very careful. It is best to seek guidance from established and reputable dealers to judge age and authenticity. It is fortunate (in many ways) that the modern tourist and casual collector trade now relies upon legal bone and fossilized ivory.

The second most popular material used for crafting netsuke is boxwood. This evergreen tree, along with other hardwoods with beautiful grain and warm color, remains popular even among contemporary carvers and collectors. Other less common materials included lacquer, earthenware, woven cane, tagua nuts, walnuts, bamboo, antler, amber, walrus tusk, whale teeth, wild boar tusk, hippopotamus teeth, rhinoceros horn, coral, jet, agate and the extremely rare hornbill “ivory”.

Boxwood netsuke

Boxwood Buddha netsuke

Tagua Nut Dragon netsuke

Tagua Nut Dragon netsuke

As netsuke increased in popularity during the Edo period, the level of artistry rose to breathtaking heights, and the work of particular artists became especially appreciated and sought. Many netsuke are signed, which always adds interest and value to a piece. Changing fashions in the mid-19th Century led to the declining use and eventual disappearance of netsuke, just as the West was becoming aware of these fascinating objects. Interest among Orientalists and art collectors increased and scholarship became vigorous by the 1920s, allowing greater connoisseurship among curators and collectors in the West.

Tobacco pouch with netsuke

Tobacco pouch with netsuke

Although netsuke disappeared from Japanese life, a small number of specialist artists continued their work up to the mid-20th Century. Surprisingly these modern artists catered mostly to Western enthusiasts. Collecting interest in the West has continued and even grown in more recent times, leading to ever higher prices for antique netsuke. There has also been a slight revival of serious artistry in Japan (as opposed to the chop shops of Hong Kong). Netsuke curiously remain fairly unknown to most modern Japanese, although awareness and interest is starting to grow.

Very old bone netsuke

Very old Bone Rat netsuke

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Visit www.nantucketchronicle.com/ , your free online resource for everything Nantucket. By Nantucketers, for Nantucketers.

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Please excuse any annoying advertisements that may appear below this. The intrusion is on the part of the hosting cite, and is in no way endorsed by the Antiques Depot.

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