The De Noailles: Art-Loving Aristocrats of Jazz Age Paris

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The De Noailles: Art-Loving Aristocrats of Jazz Age Paris
They were a golden couple of the 1920s: fabulously wealthy benefactors of the arts who were famed for their dinners and balls, the modernist décor of their home in the 16th arrondissement, and their patronage of the avant-garde, and who were not afraid of a spot of scandal.  They were Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, an unconventional couple (he was gay but their marriage endured in genuine mutual devotion) whose support launched or established the careers of many of the era’s best-known artists, writers and musicians. Despite Charles’s roots in French nobility, Marie-Laure had the more exotic background: heiress to the fortune built up  by a Paris banker of German-Jewish-Quaker origin, Maurice Bischoffsheim, she counted the Marquis de Sade as a distant 3x great-grandfather. Her grandmother, Laure de Sade, was the inspiration for the Duchesse de Guermantes in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  Marie-Laure de Noailles. Photo credit: Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons Charles was born in 1891, Marie-Laure in 1902, and they married in 1923. She was once asked, “Charles, does he like men, or women?” A question that was answered when she entered their bedroom on one occasion and found her husband in bed with his handsome gym instructor. True to the expectations of polite society, Charles never came “out” (although his sexual orientation must have been common knowledge among their friends) and he and Marie-Laure presented themselves as the perfect society couple, even to the point of having two children. Although the marriage was, sexually, a front (after the birth of their second child they slept in separate bedrooms), and they would communicate by letter using the formal vous even when both were at home, there was no pretense in the genuine affection felt between them. Baccarat crystal chandelier inside the Hôtel de Noailles, now the Musée Baccarat. Photo credit: Nitot / Wikimedia commons After the wedding, the couple moved into the hôtel particulier bequeathed to Marie-Laure by her grandfather Bischoffsheim at 11, Place des États Unis in the 16th arrondissement. Here, alongside the grandfather’s collection of Old Masters, they remodeled the interior in the latest modernist style. Art Deco sprang into public consciousness via the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925 and the apartment was in the vanguard of this new style. Sadly, the interiors were stripped out during a later remodeling in the 1980s so all we have left are a few period photographs and two pairs of original metal doors and cement walls in what was once the salon (the house is now the Baccarat Museum). Villa Noailles in Hyères. Photo credit: Gzen92/Wikimedia Commons

Lead photo credit : The Hôtel de Noailles, private mansion of Marie-Laure de Noailles, now the Musée Baccarat. Photo credit: Celette / Wikimedia commons

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2023-11-23 06:24:53
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Excellent, Pat! I have always been intrigued by the de Noailles. Thank you so much for this well-researched portrait. I translated a book by the poet Jean-Luc Pouliquen about their home in Hyères. Hopefully, it will be published in 2024. Beth