AFMO: A Weekend in Paris

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The Statue of Liberty on display in the Museé d’Orsay's Main Hall is an 1899 nine-foot version of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s colossal statue in New York Harbor. Ordered by Bartholdi himself, this 1/16 scale version had its home in Luxembourg Garden for over 100 years. It was moved to the Orsay museum in the wake of the 9/11 attacks whereupon it was restored thanks to funding provided by AFMO, including a recasting of the flame, which had been stolen.

Photographs by Krystal Kenney

Coco Chanel had helped cure the writer’s broken heart, recounts Justine Picardie, Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK, in a recent talk in Paris about the famous couturière. Ms. Picardie’s then husband and father of their two sons had just announced that he had fallen in love with someone else, putting a swift end to their 21-year marriage. It was on the heels of this devastating news that Ms Picardie found herself, on a freezing February day, at Aubazine Abbey, the 12th century monastery where Gabrielle Chanel had been raised by nuns, after having been abandoned by her itinerant father. Conducting research for a biography on the milliner-turned-fashion phenomenon, it was at Aubazine, with its austere beauty and echoes of its most famous and famously resilient inhabitant, that Ms Picardie found solace and the strength to move past the heartbreak. Mlle Chanel would eventually play a part in her biographer’s romantic fate, but more on that later.

This talk, delivered to a spellbound audience over tea at the Hôtel Ritz, was followed by a visit to Chanel’s fabled apartment on the Rue Cambon. With its Coromandel screens and mirrored staircase, the third floor apartment, above the ground floor store, remains unchanged since the couturière’s death in 1971 at the age of 87.

Justine Picardie speaking to a rapt audience about Chanel’s and her own loves and losses.

These activities were just two of many special events during a weekend in mid-October organized by the American Friends of the Museé d’Orsay. Based in Paris, AFMO is a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for the Orsay and Orangerie museums. About one million Americans visit the museums annually, making up the largest number of foreign visitors to these institutions. The attractions are many. The former has the distinction of housing the largest collection of Impressionist art while the latter contains Monet’s panoramic Water Lilies, among many other treasures.

Guests from all over the U.S. and London included Patricia Abramson, Michael Altman, Cyanne Chutkow, David Parsons and Melinda DeChiazza, David Downton, Flavie Durand-Ruel, Noah and Maria Gottdiener, Belle Hahn-Cohen, Marlene Hays, Peter Heydon, Richard Knaub and Luis Camarate, Ethan Koh, Rosalind and Kenneth Landis, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Carine Menache, Nicola and Mark Meskin, William Rhodes and Cristina Valencia, Peter and Susan Solomon, Nancy Goodes, Karen Levy, Judith Ehrlich, Andrea and Paul Vizcarrando, Caroline and David (Tiger) Williams.

Laurence des Cars, President of the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie bestows upon Elizabeth Kehler the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of Ms Kehler’s leadership role as Chair of AFMO’s Board of Directors and her promotion and support of the museums on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the planning for months by AFMO Executive Director Verena Thornton and staff, the weekend was a veritable movable feast. Attendees were spoiled for choice with visits to private art collections, prestigious homes and behind-the-scenes tours of national treasures and public gardens. The festivities kicked off at the magnificent U.S. Ambassador’s residence where Ambassador Jamie McCourt gave guests a warm welcome, and culminated in an elegant gala at the Musée d’Orsay.

Just before the gala, guests had the pleasure of witnessing, champagne glasses in hand, Elizabeth Kehler, AFMO’s Chair of the Board of Directors, being awarded the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in recognition for her contribution in furthering the arts in France and abroad. Ms Kehler stands in good company. American recipients of the award include Agnes Gund, Marilyn Horne, Richard Meier, Robert Paxton, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Uma Thurman.

Afterwards, before sitting down to a delectable dinner, guests enjoyed a private viewing of the Orsay’s blockbuster, once-in-a-lifetime exhibit, Picasso. Bleu et Rose.

And before that, there was an embarrassment of riches. In addition to the Chanel event, fashion lovers visited Maison Schiaparelli, Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic couture house on the Place Vendôme. Highlights include Giacometti gold columns, Marcel Vertès collages and various artifacts such as a Salvador Dalì powder compact.

A Private Viewing at the Musée National Picasso.

Art lovers were hard pressed to choose from among a multitude of options: a private after-hours tour of Picasso: Masterpieces! at the Musée National Picasso-Paris. Many of the artist’s greatest works, some of which were shown in Paris for the first time, were brought together thanks to exceptional loans; a visit to the iconic artist’s studio at the newly opened Giacometti Institute, repository of the world’s richest collection of works by Alberto Giacometti; a visit to Auguste Rodin’s home, atelier and garden in Meudon, outside of Paris where the artist created many of his most important pieces.

And, in addition to private visits to the Guttklein Fine art Gallery and the Gagosian Gallery, guests had the privilege of taking behind-the-scenes tours at the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée du Louvre. The elegant Hôtel Le Bristol too, where many of the attendees stayed, enlightened visitors about its Gobelins tapestries and notable portrait of Marie-Antoinette painted by François-Hubert Drouais, Madame de Pompadour’s favorite painter.

Touring Le Bristol’s art treasures.

Last, but certainly not least, art historian Flavie Durand-Ruel dove into the archives of her ancestor, illustrious Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, offering a glimpse of the man for whom art reigned supreme. Indeed, towards the end of the 19th century, Durand-Ruel became the most important advocate of French Impressionism, helping establish Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley among others.

Antique aficionados also had plenty to feast on. Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière, renowned interior designers, opened the doors to their own sumptuous residence, the Hôtel du Duc de Gesvres. The meticulously restored 17th century mansion earned its owners the Institut de France’s highest award for restoration. Lighting designers and distinguished private art collectors Max Blumberg and Eduardo Araujo also welcomed visitors to their beautiful home, with its neo-classical art collection and expansive views the Tuileries gardens and the Musée d’Orsay.

There was quite a lot for history buffs too including a private visit to the National Archives located in the Hôtel de Soubise. The 18th century mansion graced with a majestic courtyard, is home to the Iron Chest which holds some of France’s most precious documents. And the Bibliothèque Nationale, at its Richelieu site, is a feast for the eyes. Formerly the residence of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin in the 17th century and then the Royal Library, it houses prestigious collections of manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, coins and medals. Its 19th century oval reading room is a light and airy neo-classical masterpiece. After the visit, guests were treated to lunch in the library’s wood-paneled Salon d’Honneur under the gaze of Voltaire.

The Salle Labrouste at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The light and airy mid 19th-century room is considered an engineering and architectural marvel. Photo: Olivier Ouadah

Nor were nature-lovers left out in the cold. A guided tour of France’s main botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes, located in the 5th Arrondissement, was balm for the soul in today’s hectic world with its rose garden, greenhouses, labyrinth, gazebo and aviary. There’s even a zoo, home to some 200 species of animals.

The festivities were capped off with a gala at the Musée d’Orsay in the museum’s opulent Salle des Fêtes, a former 19th century ballroom. Enjoying the company of France’s newly installed Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, guests were treated to gastronomic delights created by Gabi Shafir, Executive Chef of the Moroccan royal family. The fragrant eucalyptus centerpieces memorably added to the sensory experience.

Elizabeth Kehler with France’s Minister of Culture, Franck Riester and Laurence des Cars: “The Orsay has, by far, the best collection of impressionist art in the world,” says Ms. Kehler. “Over one million Americans visit every year; to us at the American Friends, it is practically an American museum. What a privilege it is to support this extraordinary institution.”

AFMO’s A Weekend in Paris showcased some of the very best France has to offer in terms of culture, fashion, history, gastronomy, even botany, stimulating all the senses. Being witness to all that beauty and sophistication, it is no wonder that Paris is known as the City of Love.

And speaking of love, how did Justine Picardie’s own story end? Happily, for she found love, dear reader. It was “the man on the left” – the one seated next to her at a dinner party – a party she did not want to attend. He is a British aristocrat, just like the main loves of Chanel’s life. The romance blossomed as this man, Ms Picardie’s now husband, helped the biographer with her research on the legendary designer, guiding her to archives in the Scottish highlands. So, if you have the chance to attend a dinner party, do not refuse the invitation, for you never know what pleasures it may bring. And, if you can, do attend AFMO’s fête next year. You may not find love, but you will certainly be enchanted.

To find out how you can be a benefactor, visit:

The Gala Evening at the Musée d’Orsay

Verena Thornton and Kim Potvin.
Elizabeth Kehler, Anika Guntrum, Aurélie Cauchy-Laure, and Cyanne Chutkow.
Cocktails at the Musée d’Orsay.
Elizabeth Kehler, flanked by Franck Riester, and Laurence des Cars
The Musée d’Orsay’s Main Hall.
Jonathan Levine and Polly Levine.
Marlene Hays, Mary Marbry, and Mary-Lee Turner.
Peter Solomon and Susan Solomon.
The elegant table settings in the Musée d’Orsay’s Salle des Fêtes, a former 19th century ballroom.
The evening’s menu.
Gabi Shafir, Executive Chef of the Moroccan royal family and member of L’Équipe de France de la Gastronomie et des Maîtres du Service.
Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.
Joan Schnitzer Levy.
Belle Hahn Cohen and Jan Rhodes.

Cocktail Reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence

The official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to France, the Hôtel de Pontalba, built in the 19th century.
Elizabeth Kehler and Marc Raffray, General Manager at Hôtel Crillon.
Peter Solomon and Susan Solomon.
The art on display at the ambassador’s residence is an eclectic mix of old masters and modern masterpieces.
Mary Mabry and John C. Cash. Rosemary Duhaime and Bernard Duhaime.
Ethan Koh and Kate Kies.
Carine Menache, Verena Thornton, and Audrey Spangenberg.
Dafna Madia and Madeline Madia.
Elizabeth Kehler with U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt, and Laurence des Cars.
Laurence des Cars, Cécile Debray, Arnaud Oseredczuk, Verena Thornton, Delia von Neuschatz, and Danielle Rossi Hirsch.

At the National Archives

Cobey Rapaport, Audrey Spangenberg, and Nancy Goodes.

Nancy Goodes.

Behind the Scenes at the Museé d’Orsay

Thomas Galifot, Curator of Photographs at the Musée d’ Orsay.

Visiting the Bibliothèque Nationale

Jan Rhodes, Jane DiPaolo, and Maureen Higdon.
Bill Rhodes, Zuade Kaufman, and Cristina Valencia.
Marlene Hays and Eric Hilton. Delia von Neuschatz and Danielle Rossi Hirsch.
A guided tour of the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Susan Solomon, Amy Sloane-Pinel, Bonnie McElveen Hunter, and Capera Ryan in the Bibliothèque’s wood-paneled Salle d’Honneur.
Alice Richardson, Belle Hahn Cohen, Jane DiPaolo, and Leila Nami.
Alice Richardson and Belle Hahn Cohen.
Delia von Neuschatz, Danielle Rossi Hirsch, and Karen Kasner.

A talk by author, Justine Picardie about Coco Chanel during tea at the Ritz

Andrea Vizcarrondo and Kate Kies.
Capera Ryan, Polly Levine, Leila Nami, and Sheri Levin.
Justine Picardie signing copies of her new book, Coco Chanel, The Legend and the Life.
Justine Picardie with her new book.

A Private Viewing at the Musée National Picasso

Verena Thornton with Nancy Staniar and Burton Staniar.
Deborah Ryan, Capera Ryan, Joan Schnitzer Levy, Zuade Kaufman, and Audrey Spangenberg.
Jamie Gordon, Alice Knapp, Judith Ehrlich, and Madeline Madia.

At the Giacometti Institute

Andrea Labov Clark.
Susan Solomon, Nancy Staniar, Capera Ryan, Burton Staniar, and Lois Stainman.
Polly Levine and Jonathan Levine.

At Guttklein Fine Art

Céline Petibon and Verena Thornton.

Touring Le Bristol’s art treasures

And finally – the Jardin des Plantes Garden Tour

Created in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden for Louis XIII, the Jardin des Plantes still preserves its original scientific mission, maintaining a botanical school which trains botanists and exchanging seeds to sustain biodiversity. Located in Paris’ 5th Arrondissement, the 70-acre garden has been open to the public for some 400 years.
Pamela Denesuk and Capera Ryan.
Jane DiPaolo, Carine Menache, Sue Dumke, and Maureen Higdon.
Amy Kupec-Larue.

Jan Rhodes.

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