Artful Eccentrics

In honor of the 26th Hyères fashion & photography festival this weekend, we here at the Vault explore the life of the inimitable 20th century couple who built the 1920s-era cubist villa that hosts this annual event in the south of France.

Where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were fashion-obsessed, another international, aristocratic couple of roughly the same period– Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles– were rigorously art-obsessed, rivaled perhaps only by Peggy Guggenheim as patrons of art and artists in the first half of the 20th century.  Both coming from aristocratic families, the couple married in 1923 and lived between a Parisian hôtel particulier and a summer villa they commissioned by Robert Mallet-Stephens, built in Hyères between 1923 and 1925.  The Italian army later occupied the villa in 1940 and it became a hospital, before Marie-Laure reclaimed it as her summer residence from 1947-1970.  The villa was later purchased in 1973 by the city of Hyères [Marie-Laure died in 1970].

A descendent of the Marquis de Sade, Marie-Laure’s embrace of the surrealist movement and enthused support of its artists– ranging from financial support to a string of lurid affairs with artists like Jean Cocteau, among others–  only seemed to mirror her family lineage.  While it later became known that Charles de Noailles preferred men, the couple nonetheless established a shared legacy of art patronage, financing surrealist films by Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali in the late 20s and early 30s, as well as commissioning photography and painting.  Members of the social elite in Paris, Charles and Marie-Laure rubbed elbows with movers and shakers outside the art world as well, including Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky and more.

To read more about the Villa Noailles and the fabulous couple behind it, visit the site here.  A permanent exhibition on their life together, Charles et Marie-Laure de Noailles: Une Vie de Mécènes is on display at the villa itself.

The Noailles couple in a Film still from “Biceps et Bijoux” by Jacques Manuel, 1928; couple circa 1920s

The Villa Noailles; film still from “Biceps et Bijoux,” shot in the villa’s upstairs pool circa 1928

Marie-Laure de Noailles & Salvador Dali in Hyères, circa 1930; Marie-Laure shot by Man Ray, 1929

A view shot from the villa’s roof; the triangular-shaped checkerboard garden

Marie-Laure with Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky, and others at Paris’ Cafe de Flore; Marie-Laure by Man Ray, 1936

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