One evening, Isadora Duncan will dance, and Auguste Rodin will watch her. Another, Gabriel Fauré will conduct his requiem. Other evenings still, there will be, in the room, Marcel Proust, the widow of Richard Wagner, Sarah Bernhardt or Lugné-Poe. All came at the invitation of the Countess of Béhague. They entered his mansion on rue Saint-Dominique, in the 7e arrondissement of Paris, and they joined the theatre. One of the most extraordinary of which is: its architecture borrowed from Neuschwanstein Castle, in Bavaria, and a Byzantine church. It is also called the Byzantine room, and it is the largest room for private use in Paris: it can accommodate six hundred spectators. Today, it belongs to Romania, which bought the Béhague hotel to establish its embassy there, after the death of the countess, in 1939.
She had a name considered charming in her time, Martine, and she was born in 1870 into a wealthy family, partly thanks to the railroads, and enlightened. Her father was a great bibliophile, a passion she would inherit; she would also entrust the care of her library to Paul Valéry. According to a chronicler of his time, “all Paris would have liked to marry” Martine de Behague. She married at the age of 20 with René-Marie-Hector de Béarn, from whom she quickly separated to live as a free, flamboyant, whimsical woman and great lover of the arts.
One of the very first elevators in Paris leads to the apartments of the Countess
From 1893, she remodeled her parents’ mansion, which she enlarged by building the sumptuous Hôtel de Béhague. The staircase is reminiscent of that of the Queen at Versailles and one of the very first lifts in Paris to be built in the apartments of the Countess, who asked Gustave-Adolphe Gerhardt, the architect-restorer of the College de France, to imagine a room to satisfy his love of music. Martine de Béhague was madly in love with Wagner. Perhaps that is why this room is inspired by the throne room of Ludwig II of Bavaria, the composer’s hallucinatory patron. The Byzantine inspiration may come from the Countess’ taste for travel, who made long and distant crossings in Asia on her yachts, The White Lotusthen Nirvana.
set of mirrors
Built between 1898 and 1900, the room enchants its contemporaries, with its porphyry and marble columns, its capitals and its arcades, its mosaics with golden reflections, its blue linen carpets on the floor, its ceiling stretched with straw velvet… Not to mention the stage, where eighty musicians can take place, a removable orchestra pit and, on its right side, an organ, hidden from view and equipped with a blower powered by a hydraulic system. The Countess, who, it is said, did not hesitate to welcome her guests with a green wig, has a dressing room, facing the stage and as large as a living room, which dominates the floor, where a small museum with paintings and musical instruments.
You have 54.72% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.