Hôtel de la Païva

I had the opportunity to visit the Hôtel (town house, mansion) de la Païva on the Champs Elysées, constructed by a famous courtesan, Esther Lachmann, later Pauline Thérèse Lachmann, later Madame Villoing, later Mme la Marquise de Païva, later Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck, but always referred to as “La Païva”.

Born in Moscow in 1819 in miserable conditions, she fled her first early marriage and arrived in the slums of Paris, became mistress of a famous pianist, met influent people, married in 1851 to a Portuguese marquis and got her name (her first husband had died in the meantime). The day following the Portuguese marriage she is said to have stated "You wanted to sleep with me, and you have done so, by making me your wife. You have given me your name, I acquitted myself last night. I have behaved like an honest woman. I wanted a position, and I've got it, but all you have is a prostitute for a wife. You can't take me anywhere, and you can't introduce me to anyone. We must therefore separate. You go back to Portugal. I shall stay here with your name, and remain a whore.“  ... and he left, but they officially divorced only 20 years later, when she got married to an enormously rich Prussian count, Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, eleven years her junior. He offered her a castle, the famous Donnersmarck diamonds and, already before the marriage, allowed her to build this mansion, considered to be the most elegant in Paris.

She was much loved by her last husband, who worshipped her all his life, although he remarried after Païva's death in 1884 - at the age of 64. They had then left Paris, forced by the difficult French / Prussian relations in the 1870's and settled down in the husband's Prussian castle (today in Poland). Finally, she could enjoy her nice mansion only a few years, but had the time to give some very extravagant parties, with basically only men invited, including a large part of those days' Paris intelligentsia. 

What did she look like? She obviously never wanted to be photographed full face. This is all I have found on Internet, including a picture of the Donnersmarck diamonds, last time sold by Sotheby's in 2007 for some 8 million dollars. However, she obviously served as a model on some of the remaining ceiling paintings, statues...

A bit everywhere, you find her initials, P for Païva and B for "Blanche", a new first name that she invented for herself.

But, this was especially to be about the building, since 1903 occupied by Travellers' Club. (An independent restaurant in front was added much later.) The original furniture has all be replaced, but you can still find a lot of the original decoration... walls, ceilings... Only the best material was used, the bests architects, the best artists and artisans... were employed.

Some views from the first reception floor….

… from the winter garden…

… and on the way up to the private second floor, what perhaps is the most remarkable: the stairs. The material used is the extremely expensive onyx and all is fabulously decorated.

One striking  (maybe hardly surprising?) thing is that her large bedroom occupies the central part of the second floor. Today, it’s a dining room for Traveller’s Club, and the bed has disappeared. On Internet I found an illustration of what it may have looked like.

The bathroom, photographed via a mirror, has an onyx bathtub, with the interior in silver coated copper. Three taps – one for cold, one for warm water and a third one for champagne (?).

Before moving in here, she already had a quite decent place to live. I mentioned it in a previous post.


Starman said...

Love the "three taps"!

martinealison said...

Je viens de passer un très agréable moment... Je ne connaissais pas, je n'ai pas visité ce lieu à Paris et je crois que je serais heureuse de le faire lorsque je me rendrai à la capitale !
J'aime l'histoire qui accompagne vos très belles photos.
Une femme de caractère, dites-moi ! très intéressée toutefois... mais qui avait du goût!
Gros bisous à vous.

French Girl in Seattle said...

What a woman: She made her own rules, and her own luck. Good for her. It probably was not an easy thing to do at the time. Like Martine, I had never heard of her or the house, so thank you for a cool story. Just when we thought we knew everything there is to know about "la capitale..." -- Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Thérèse said...

La fameuse baignoire cachée sous la banquette de salle à manger.
Magnifiques billet, histoire, photos.

claude said...

C'est somptueux !
Tu as de la chance de pouvoir visiter de si beaux endroits.
On peut te dire merci et aussi merci à Blanche de Païva.

Cezar and Léia said...

The lady was a bit of everything, it seems! :)
And what a fancy home! Quite interesting!
God bless you!

Parisbreakfasts said...

Quite fabulous indeed.
I shall have to move immediatement.
My petite studio will not do at all and the stairway is downright criminal by comparison. Chapeau to Blanche!

Cergie said...

Je sais bien que c'est la brocante du 29 mars au 7 avril de 10 à 19 H près de ton square favori (j'ai pris une photo d'un panonceau près de la camionnette d'un exposant qui déchargeait des chaises)
Les fauteuils, canapés et chaises de cet hôtel ne dépareraient pas à cette vente !

Alison said...

Fascinating story. And yes, that stairway is stunning. She must have really enjoyed the pleasures of the bedroom; I wonder how she'd react if she could see it today!

Vagabonde said...

What a fabulous place! I had never heard of it and am pleased you got a chance to see it – so we could too. She must have been quite a beautiful lady to inspire men like this, and intelligent too to obtain what she did.

Lorraine S. said...

WONDERFUL to have you back in Paris. Beautiful photos and background. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Un maravilloso articulo, Peter!
Todo esto me parece tan romantico!
Realmente asombroso todo ese splendor.
Yo no sabia que hay que ser hermosa para cautivar a un hombre...

Studio at the Farm said...

What an amazing and intriguing woman!! Thank you, Peter, for her story.

Synne said...

Wow, the staircase and the chandeliers leave me breathless! Also, how fun that you can see her initials here and there!

Anonymous said...

The statue of the little boy looks exactly like the "manneken Pis" in Brussles.

Virginia said...

I think she was a lady I would love to have known! I vote this my favorite post Peter. And as for the three taps, of course it was for champagne. Doesn't everyone have that???
Bon weekend,

Jeanie said...

What a shame she didn't want to be photographed. That one photo on the left shows her to be quite a beautiful woman. And what a fascinating life. She is a movie in herself -- how wonderful if they could film it on location!

Thanks for taking us to another amazing off the guide-book spot, Peter!

Anonymous said...

3rd tap was neither for champagne or milk, rather for plant infusions, skin care.

Anonymous said...

Ces banquettes rouge ca fait un peu cocotte pour un club. Dans le temps c'etait du cuir.Ou au premier etage la sale de bain est est adjacente a la sale a manger pricipale du club avec au milieu une grande table d'hote. Jimmy Goldsmith dejeunait toujours dans la sale de bain. Patrik Ricard en revanche utilisait la plupart du temps la grande table d'hote. Au troisieme etage il y a des chambres que les membres de clubs etrangers utilisent. Claude Foussier (Coca Cola France)aussi officiellement domicilie en Suisse habitait au club. Ils ont du recemment du admettre des femmes pour survivre et l'ambiance a completement change. Dans le temps c'etait pratiquement un casino avec des membres vivant du jeux mais le business etait interdit. Maintenant ils vivent de receptions de nature commerciales. L'endroit est magique. C'est le plus beau club prive de Paris mais la nouvelle generation travaille plus et n'a pas le temps d'aller dejeuner a leur club et le w e ils preferent aller au Polo avec femmes et enfants. Dand les annees soixante Merrill Lynch occupait le sous sol qui est occupe maintenent par un restaurant. Il y avait beaucoup d'Americains et d'Anglais. L'ambassadeur Americain est membre. Hemmingway et Lauren Bacall ont dine au Travellers. Rose Kennedy aussi. Spencer Tracy etait membre. Le Prince Dimitri de Russie.