Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Twisted Tale of a Collection of Paintings

It being so close to Valentine’s Day and all…it might not be the best time to complete the tale of our visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie….see our previous post and comments for January 24, 2011 entitled Waiting in Line for Oscar. But it is, after all…at least from Paul Guillaume’s point of view…a love story…despite the suspicions of double murder, the adultery, the fake pregnancy, the black market adoption, the hiring of a hit-man, the blackmail, the perjury, the prostitution…not to mention all those paintings.

For Paul was deeply in love with Domenica.

Paul Guillaume was born in Paris in 1891. He was by no means a wealthy man, but that didn’t deter his appreciation for the arts. Finding a cache of African sculptures that somehow made their way into a shipment of rubber that was delivered to the automobile garage in which he worked, Guillaume was quick to appreciate them…at a time when the arts of Africa were little recognized. He founded an association, published a magazine and as luck would have it, an exposition of his Gabon sculptures came to be admired by none other than Apollinaire…Guillaume Apollinaire, the Polish/Italian writer who coined the term “surrealism” and who was friends with a who’s who of the then up and coming art scene…Pablo Picasso, Quimper’s Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau, Marc Chagall, etc., etc.

Soon Paul found himself in the midst of all this…first as a collector of art that was still unrecognized and relatively inexpensive…and later as a wealthy art critic-dealer-collector. He met Domenica when she was working either selling gloves or as a hat-check girl at a nightclub…accounts differ.

Domenica was born Juliette Léonie Lacaze in the Aveyron…the midi-pyrénées region of France…famous for roquefort cheese and the Laguiole knives with which to cut it. She was seven years younger than Paul.

They married in 1920. In 1922, Paul is the art counselor for Dr. Albert C. Barnes…yes, that Dr. Albert C. Barnes…of the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania. Life is good for Domenica…a long way from Aveyron. She and Paul…and five or six  servants…accounts differ…live in a 650 square meter apartment on what is now Avenue Foch in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. (To put that into perspective, I write to you now from about one-thirteenth of that amount of apartment…and zero servants).

In addition to Maurice Utrillo and Chaïm Soutine, Paul represents Amedeo Modigliani…who painted his portrait…
walter guillaume guillaume modigliani
…Paul was just twenty-three years old at the time of the sitting.

The museum which now houses the collection initiated by Paul…le Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris…has a re-creation of one of the rooms of Paul and Domenica’s apartment…walter guillaume room…as well as several scale-sized models depicting how they lived with all their paintings…Paul had the idea of eventually creating a home/museum à la Dr. Barnes. Here’s the model of the dining room…
walter guillaume model The painting obscured by the “chandelier” is by André Derain and is entitled La Table de la Cuisine
walter guillaume derain cuisine 
Domenica is the darling of the art world…

Derain is just one of many artists to paint her portrait…

walter guillaume domenica derainPortrait de Madame Paul Guillaume au Grand Châpeau…painted in 1928 or 1929 when Domenica was in her early thirties…

…and she is often purported to have modeled as the subject of this 1922 Odalisque avec les Pantalons Rouge by Henri Matisse…
walter guillaume domenica matisse But Domenica is restless and begins to collect men in the same manner that her husband collected art. She becomes the mistress of Jean Walter…a wealthy architect. Born in 1891, Walter had been a military attaché for Georges Clemenceau during World War I and had since made a name for himself designing hospitals. But his great wealth actually stemmed from a mine in Morocco that had been received casually as partial payment for an earlier architectural commission. In 1925, the holding was found to be extraordinarily rich in copper, lead, and/or zinc…again, accounts differ. Whatever the mineral, Jean Walter was even richer than Paul.

Paul is not happy, but is still desperately in love with Domenica and agrees to a move that sees Walter leaving his wife and three children so that the three of them…Paul, Domenica, and Jean…can live together in an apartment in Paris…ironically in a building for which Jean Walter had been the architect. (I don’t make this up folks! Speaking of making things up…American accounts of the events that followed, published in Life, Time, and The New Yorker magazines, were puritanically-revised, including describing Jean Walter as a widower! )

As it turns out, Paul is dying when this move occurs. He has either ulcers or appendicitis…accounts differ…but all accounts agree that he did not receive the care one could reasonably expect from a loving wife. Taken to the hospital in a very advanced stage of septic shock, Paul dies on the operating table. It’s 1934 and he was just forty-three years old. There is an investigation, but due to lack of evidence, no charges are filed. Now, as it turns out, Paul’s will stipulates that should he die and he and Domenica do not have children, then the paintings would become the property of the museum of modern art in Luxembourg. If they did have children, then Domenica would have control of the collection up until the child or children reached majority.

As you can imagine, this does not sit well with Domenica. Quickly sporting a cushion under her dress, she fakes a pregnancy, disappears at “term” and returns with a baby that her ex-con brother, Jean Lacaze,  has purchased on the black market. The child is dutifully registered as the son of Paul Guillaume and is named Jean-Pierre Guillaume… nicknamed Paulo…or Polo by some accounts.

Domenica and Jean Walter marry in 1938…or 1941…accounts differ. One of the conditions of the marriage being that Jean immediately adopts Paulo. Domenica is legally in charge of the art collection and she sells a number of the cubist paintings and begins to steer the collection toward post-impressionist art. She buys Monets, Renoirs, Cezannes…including this Cezanne still life…walter guillaume cezanne pommes et biscuits …Pommes et Biscuits, painted in 1879 and purchased at auction in 1952 by Domenica bidding furiously against the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos in order to obtain the painting for the then record price of 33 million French francs.

Jean has at least five times the wealth that Paul had, and Domenica now cuts an even wider swath in social circles…but she still continues to take on lovers. In 1957, Domenica is 59 and her constant “companion” is a homeopathic doctor named Maurice Lacour. Dr. Lacour is 44 years old and, as it turns out, is an expert on poisons. One Sunday afternoon, the trio are having their customary lunch at a countryside inn. Domenica reportedly asks Jean to run across the street to get some cigarettes and blam…out of nowhere, a car strikes him. It’s a hit-and-run. An ambulance is called, but Domenica turns it away, stating that she preferred that she and Maurice bring the gravely injured Jean to the hospital. After what was later described as an unusually long time, Jean Walter is dead on arrival at the hospital.

Eyebrows are raised, but no charges are filed.

Meanwhile Paulo is getting close to the age when he would inherit the impressive collection of paintings. He hadn’t done much with his life. Domenica had blurted out that she was not his mother during a heated argument when he was still an adolescent, but Jean Walter had been a loving “father”. Paulo life’s so far had consisted of odd jobs, brief travels here and there…the most stable period being when he fulfilled his military duties as a paratrooper in the Franco-Algerian War. It was at this time that Domenica’s brother Jean and Maurice allegedly hired a hit-man to rid themselves of Paulo. Unfortunately for them, the man they approached had been a paratrooper himself and respecting a “code of honor”, told Paulo of the plot and notified the police. Maurice was arrested, but claimed that it was all a misunderstanding…that the money that had been exchanged was for a real estate deal. Maurice was eventually released and the case did not proceed any further.

Paulo returns to Paris and becomes a free-lance photographer. He meets a girl…Marie-Thérèse Goyenetch, nicknamed Maïté. Paulo thinks she’s a hairdresser, but she’s actually a call girl that had been bribed by Domenica’s brother, Jean. Maïté tells police that Paulo is her procurer…which is a felony. And it just so happens …what a coincidence…that being convicted of a felony would have voided Jean Walter’s adoption of Paulo, thus negating his rights to inherit the fortune. There’s an investigation…witnesses are called…testimony given…perjury discovered. But nothing really comes to fruition and the next thing you know, the French Minister of Culture, André Malraux, is announcing that contracts have been signed and that upon the death of Domenica, the 146 paintings…including 24 Renoirs, 12 Picassos, 15 Cezannes, 10 Matisses, 29 Derains, and 22 Soutines…will become the property of the French government…the very paintings that one sees on the lower level of the Musée de l’Orangerie..

In 1979, Domenica dies, leaving what was left of her still vast fortune to her current lover…a Russian art critic. And Paulo? Some say he met with Domenica some years after the assassination plot and subsequently renounced all claims to an inheritance…by some accounts, in exchange for a healthy sum.

So the next time you admire the paintings downstairs at the Musée de l’Orangerie…keep in mind the story behind the collection…and the individuals involved…for it’s true that still waters can run very, very deep…
walter guillaume monet…Monet’s  Les Bateaux Rouge…Argenteuil 1875…part of the Jean Walter-Paul Guillaume Collection…the name of the collection said to be part of the deal.

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to a visit to Musée de l’Orangerie. I've never been as it was always closed on previous trips.