© Fabulorum. José Medio

Louis-Philippe would have been astonished at the property boom generated upon the sale by his heirs to Emile Péreire and the City of Paris of the Parc de Monceau, a pleasure garden with pagodas, temples and pyramids also known as La Folie de Chartres. The indefatigable city préfet Haussmann and the astute and successful brothers Péreire managed to maintain a balance nothing short of delicate between the preservation of most of the garden features (some of which, still displayed today, make reference to masonic themes) and the real estate development of the surrounding plots.

Émile Pereire had a plan and was determined to execute it: “I shall stamp my idea on the land and I shall give it form and consistency”, he exclaimed. He ensured that the most desirable land around the gardens was sold to the wealthiest bidders. The leading financiers and their families chose Monceau as their home: the Ephrussis, Abraham and Moïse de CamondoAlphonse and Adolphe de Rothschild and Henri Cernuschi. Magnificent mansions were erected around the gardens named by Émile and his brother Isaac after the painters they so passionately admired: Murillo, Van Dyck, Velazquez. Their hotel at the faubourg Saint-Honoré amassed a remarkable collection of these old masters.

The mystique of the plaine Monceau was completed with the arrival to the area of artists and writers of renown: Alexandre Dumas fils, Georges Bizet and his wife Geneviève Halevy. After his sudden death, she married Émile Strauss, the lawyer of the Rothschilds. The prince and princess Joachim Murat, Maupassant and the society painter Madeleine Lemaire, called the “empress of the roses” were also residents of this neighborhood as was doctor Proust, his wife and their two children. Later on, the eldest, Marcel, would not only masterfully depict its social topography but would undertake a trip like Jules Verne, not to the center of the earth but of the human soul.

These grandiose constructions still silently echo the ambitions of its dwellers and the liveliness of its animated salons. Gracious hostesses, ambitious young men, respected musicians, painters, journalists and the beautiful people, all were perfect appendices to this self-contained world around the plaine. How insouciant and unforeseen was the shock of death and destruction that was soon to follow. How cruel, on reflection, the passage from one to the other. Yet their memories linger in those grey mansions repossessed today by a world of law firms, consultants and financial boutiques.


  1. Charley Brown says: March 11, 20138:40 pm

    May I assume the plaine Monceau is where Proust’s Guermantes resided?

    • José Medio says: March 11, 201311:18 pm

      Proust was inspired by more than one life-model for her character of la Duchesse de Guermantes. One of them was clearly Geneviève Halévy, mother of one of his best school friend, Jacques Bizet. The comtesse Greffulhe was another inspiration, perhaps more for sophistication than wit (although these ladies had all plenty!) as was Laure de Sade. Of all three, Geneviève lived in the rue Mirosmenil one of the boundaries of the plaine Monceau and comtesse Greffulhe on the rue d’Astorg not on the plaine but close to the Elysée Palace.