French Socialite’s Hidden Secret Finally Revealed 70 Years Later

You might think you know all about your family’s past thanks to an ancestry website or a dense photo album, but there are always surprises out there. The de Florian’s were saddened when their family matriarch passed away, but they were also shocked to learn that she’d been keeping a secret her entire life — right in the heart of Paris. With just the turn of a key, they learned the truth of their ancestral identity.

The De Florian Mystery

What’s it like to live a double life? The de Florians, asked themselves that after they bid farewell to their mother and grandmother, Mrs. de Florian. The process of sorting out her estate revealed that there was a side to her that she kept hidden for decades.

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A Secret Life

French privacy law has concealed Mrs. de Florian’s full name, but many suspect she is Solange Beaugiron, a playwright who wrote under the stage name Solang Beldo. The finer details of her life, and that of another ancestor, were all contained within a single room.

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Home Away From Home

Mrs. de Florian’s children learned after her passing that their mom owned an apartment in Paris. She hadn’t set foot inside for decades although she had been living in southern France the whole time. The children, who were now adults, put a team together to investigate the apartment.

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Putting A Team Together

Mrs. de Florian’s children gathered a team, led by auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry. At the apartment, they were to evaluate their mother’s assets, but they had no idea the treasure trove of history and family secrets they’d uncover.

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Back In Time

When they entered through the apartment’s door, it was as if they were transported back in time. Furniture and personal belongings dating back to the 19th century were left untouched and in perfect condition. Aside from the persistent dust and some torn wallpaper, it was as if the owner had never left.

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Belongings Of The Rich

Paintings, vases, and taxidermy all made it clear that this was the home of a wealthy socialite. The tall windows let in the perfect amount of natural light and were covered with such elegant curtains. Illuminated by a chandelier, the apartment had the perfect atmosphere to light a fancy party.

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Putting The Story Together

The de Florians also sifted through old toys, clothes, a vanity complete with perfumes and make-up. There was evidence that began to put together the whole story of Mrs. de Florian’s life, starting with newspapers announcing the start of World War II.

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Running From War

The documents showed Mrs. de Florian’s life nearly fell apart. She once lived happily in Paris, but around the age of 23, she and her father Henri Beaugiron fled to the South of France to escape the violence of the invading Germans.

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Pieces Of Family

There was not much more in the apartment of Mrs. de Florian’s life after that, as she never returned. But one glamorous artifact did lead historians to an exciting journey through the family’s past.

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A Famed Painting

Among the paintings in the apartment, one piece struck the team and sparked an incredible revelation. A painting of a woman in an elegant, pink satin dress, was a part of the de Florian collection, but Choppin-Janvry and the team speculated that it was the creation of famous artist Giovanni Boldini.

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Grandma’s House

While the auctioneer’s team searched for proof that it was the work of the famous artist, they also wondered who his beautiful subject could be. They soon learned her name was Marthe de Florian. She was Mrs. de Florian’s grandmother, and the owner of the incredible apartment — and an incredible story.

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Born Among The Arts

Marthe de Florian was born in the 18th district of Paris back in 1864. The neighborhood was well-known for its cultivation of art, and also for the infamous red-light district, where the renowned Moulin Rouge lies.

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A Woman’s Struggle

Marthe struggled early on in life. She gave birth to two sons without finding herself a husband to support her. Sadly, her firstborn did not live past 3 months. Despite her unfavorable position in life, Marthe found the resolve to move forward.

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Down In The French Dumps

Marthe wanted to ensure a better life for her now only child, whom she named Henri, after her mother, Henriette Eloïse Bara. At the time, Marthe was a seamstress, but that would not provide her enough money to take care of her child.

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Turn On The Red Light

She would have to go down the only other career path that was given to unmarried women. At the time, that was down the path of the red-light district as a prostitute, but Marthe de Florian would not become your garden variety street walker.

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Doing What She Must

Marthe became what is called a “courtesan,” which is, simply put, a prostitute of the elite class. Marthe met the most esteemed people in high society, and made her money from the relationships. She was a classy lady, who did what she had to in order to raise her son properly.

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Fine Life

Marthe lived a fine life with her son Henri. Filled with the riches of socialite society, she also had many special relationships, aside from her clientele. They helped furnish her luxurious apartment too.

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Letters Of Love

The team investigating Marthe de Florian’s home uncovered letters like they’d never seen before. Each one was color coded based on which one of Marthe’s lovers sent it, and these admirers weren’t just any hoity-toity guests from her parties. They were famous.

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Secrets Revealed

One letter was, in fact, from the famous artist Giovanni Boldini — the same man experts believed to have created that striking portrait. The de Florian family secret had been unveiled! Marthe de Florian was not only the model for Giovanni’s painting; she was his muse and his lover.

Giovanni Boldini / Wikimedia Commons

Riches For The Future

While Marthe became a huge news story, the Boldini painting was sold in an auction for more than $2,500,000 — the most that any Boldini work has ever sold for. It’s clear that Marthe lived a fabulous life as a beautiful muse and socialite, but many women in her position at the time didn’t make out so well.

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Blanche’s Story Begins

It’s unclear whether Marthe and Blanche Monnier were acquainted, even though they lived close by. According to historians, the Monniers were a well-respected bourgeois family with nobility going far back for generations — Blanche had never known anything but the comfort of a heavy wallet.

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Talk of the Town

Which meant she wasn’t used to hearing the word “no.” Adding to her privilege was her reported beauty, which apparently made it difficult for anyone to refuse her. Blanche was the socialite everyone knew and talked about…and the gossip wasn’t always complimentary.

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Forbidden Love

Though Blanche could have had the affections of any nobleman, she fell for a “common lawyer.” Immediately, her mother, Lousie, was appalled: For the financially-minded Louise, the idea of Blanche marrying someone without money was inconceivable.

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Sudden Disappearance

Louise argued that Blanche could never marry a “penniless lawyer,” and tensions rose between Louise and her 25-year-old daughter, threatening to come to an explosive head…but they never did. Suddenly, with no explanation at all, Blanche disappeared.

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Where Is Blanche?

Despite frenzied searches for the long lost socialite, she was nowhere to be found. None of her friends had any clue where she’d vanished to, and her beloved lawyer was also in the dark. Of course, the police then turned their attention to Blanche’s family.

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Grieving Her Only Daughter

But Louise and her son, Marcel, made it clear that they were just as confused as everybody else. Despite the tension between Louise and Blanche, Louise’s grief for her lost daughter was palpable: After all, her only daughter was missing…and presumed dead.

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Something’s Off

The years turned into decades, and though France went through extensive societal change during this time, Louise and Marcel’s lives stayed relatively the same. They lived the quiet lives of people who had lost something precious…and yet, something was off.

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25 Years Later

Who exactly noticed that something was “off” about the Monniers is uncertain, but in May of 1901 — 25 years after Blanche’s disappearance — the Paris Attorney General received an anonymous letter, and what was written sent a chill down his spine.

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Mysterious Letter

“I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence,” the anonymous author began. “I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house.” What the mysterious letter-writer described next was shocking, even by today’s standards.

Rushing to the Attic

“[The spinster is] half starved and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years — in a word, in her own filth.” This is all the police needed to make a surprise visit to the Monnier household. They bounded up to the attic until they came to a padlocked door.

Louise the Saint?

What they saw was worse than anything they could have imagined. Immediately, their thoughts went to Louise. How could a noblewoman who was once honored by the Committee of Good Works for her generosity and kindness do something so monstrous? 

Monstrous Scene

And “monstrous” is the only word to describe what the police saw when they forced open the attic door. As described by a police officer, Blanche was completely naked and surrounded by rotten food, cockroaches, and excrement.

Blanche is Found…Alive

“The air was so unbreathable…that it was impossible for us to stay any longer to proceed with our investigation,” one police officer described. Still, one thing was clear: The emaciated figure on the bed with long, unkempt black hair was Blanche Monnier.

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Quarter of a Century Has Passed

She was 50 years old and around 50 pounds, but miraculously, she was still alive. For a quarter of a century, Blanche wasted away in the attic room while those searching for her lived in peace, unaware that she was right under their noses.

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One Major Mystery

The Blanche everyone once envied was gone. The socialite had been without companionship, without proper hygiene, without clothes, even without sunlight for half of her life. The police were understandably filled with questions, and one stood out among the rest. 

Louise’s Revenge

Why did Louise commit such an unfathomably horrible crime? It didn’t take long for them to get their answer: Louise, clearly driven to desperation by Blanche’s disobedience, took matters into her own hands and incarcerated her daughter in the attic.

Angry Mob

The police’s next move was obvious. They arrested Louise, and as word quickly spread about what she had done, she watched an angry mob form around her home as she was taken to prison. For an image-obsessed noblewoman, this sight left her broken.

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The Monniers’ Crimes

Blanche’s resilience clearly didn’t come from her mother, as Louise died of a mysterious illness 15 days after she was arrested. As for Marcel, who was arrested for aiding Louise in her crimes, he was eventually declared mentally incapacitated…and walked free.

Unhappy Ending for Blanche

Of course, the ultimate question is: What happened to Blanche? Despite being rescued, the ending of her story isn’t a happy one. She was diagnosed with anorexia, schizophrenia, and various other mental disorders, and she died in 1913…

Dr. Stanley B. Burns