Boni and the Palais Rose

“She is the most unwashed and dirty-looking creature I ever laid eyes on, and he the most insipid. Quel ménage.”

– Natalie Clifford Barney

The ménage that so appalled Barney was the union of Anna Gould and Marquis Boni (Boniface) de Castellane, who was born this day in 1867. Gould was the daughter of American tycoon Jay Gould while Castellane belonged to one of those ancient French families so venerable that they regard Charlemagne as a little arriviste. But it was not the only exchange of Old World nobility for New World cash to excite gossip in the era; the lavender marriage of sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer and Prince Edmond de Polignac was another much-discussed example.

After bagging his heiress in 1895, Castellane embarked on a spending spree which stood out even by the profligate standards of the Belle Époque, snapping up a schooner and a couple of chateaux and once hiring the entire Bois de Boulogne for a party. His most extravagant gesture came in 1896 when he acquired a block of land on Paris’s Avenue Foch and commissioned a palace inspired by the Grand Trianon. He named it Palais Rose, though it is not to be confused with a contemporary building of the same name in Vésinet – also inspired by the Grand Trianon – which was built by Arthur Schweitzer and later inhabited by Robert de Montesquiou and the Marchesa Casati (got that?).

The marquis was, to put it mildly, a demanding client. The façade was refaced twice before he was happy with it, and when an expanse of marble didn’t match his exacting standards he had it painted over with an improved, trompe-l’œil version of itself. In all the palace took around 10 years to complete.

Do I need to tell you that all of this put something of a strain on the marriage? In 1906 the couple separated and then finally divorced, Anna upgrading to a prince (Boni’s cousin, no less), Boni resigning himself to comparative penury with good humour, publishing among other books The Art of Being Poor. With his reputation as a figure of elegance and experience in introducing wealth to taste he became an antiques dealer, Americans figuring prominently among his clients. In 1924 Castellane co-founded La Demeure Historique, an association dedicated to preserving privately-owned old buildings (a bitter irony, as we shall see), before dying in 1932.

After the Second World War the Palais Rose was a theatre of the emerging Cold War as diplomatic conferences in 1948 and 1951 debated the future of Germany and Austria. But even this historical significance couldn’t save it in 1969 when it was bought by a property developer and tragically, scandalously demolished to make way for an apartment block of eye-watering mediocrity.

There’s archival footage of the “Big 4” meeting in the Palais Rose and for the francophones there’s a whole blog dedicated to Castellane (and you thought Strange Flowers was niche!).



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