They called him “Arturito” even as a grown up, that mixture of endearment and familiarity, which the diminutive suffix expresses in Spanish. The only male child of Chilean millionaire Arturo López and his first wife Sara Willshaw, he chose the old world in which to unfold his privileged life, turning his back on the home of the fortunes his father amassed trading a precious commodity, “guano”, or bird excrements, priced as a valuable fertilizer. He did not need to worry about managing the inheritance. His destiny was to spend it. And he did that with superb panache.
His aesthetic sensibilities and wealth eased his entrance into the Paris between the two world wars. Once there, as attaché of the Chilean Embassy, he began collecting Louis XIV furniture, Fabergé handles and walking sticks. Prince Rupert Loewenstein claims in his memoirs that Arturito wanted to model himself into a miniature edition of Louis XIV.
Miniature or not, his life turned into a successive acquisition of glittering assets. In 1928, he purchased a hotel particulier in Neuilly, built by Paul Rodocanachi, that he converted and redecorated into a shrine to Louis XIV, filled with furniture, silver and objects of the period. In 1931, he purchased the Gaviota, a motor yacht originally built for the owner of Reynolds Tobacco, where he received a maximum of eight guests in uncommon floating luxury. Lady guests were rumored to sport every night a new haute couture model. Their trunks took as much space as any of the cabins.
It was speculated that he even offered to pay one million dollars to Alexis de Redé to bring him back from New York to live with him in Paris. “I was not in love, but I needed protection, and I was aware that he could provide this,” Redé bluntly admitted years later in his memoirs. Curiously, far from being just a kept lover, Redé provided him with sensible financial advice, being born himself into a banking family and later in life having a reputation for having a “Midas touch” with money.
Perhaps he really was fond of his wife, Patricia Huici, niece of another member of the buoyant café-society of the time, Eugenia Errázurriz, with whom he shared paradoxically much of his life but not a bed. Patricia represented the perfect complement, the ideal hostess to her flamboyant husband.
In that atmosphere of strongly individual morals and aesthetic snobbery, he excelled at organizing parties and balls, splashing glamour nonchalantly, and entertaining theatrically. His name is uttered in the same breath as those of his contemporaries whose lives navigated among unashamed splendor.
Upon his death in 1962, his fortune and collection were divided between the two other members of this curious troika: his wife and his lover. Patricia retired to “La Lopeziana” near Saint-Tropez where she nearly reached 100 years of existence. She died in 2010, six years after her husband’s lover. Sotheby’s and Christie’s dispersed the collections of the two heirs.