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Martine de Béhague. Une esthète à la Belle Époque

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Author : Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond [1]

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Was Martine de Béhague a collector? The question seems curious, but it occupies a central place in the conclusion of this excellent book. On this point we differ from Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, for we believe that anyone who brings together a body of art is a collector. There are different kinds of collectors, of course, and the Countess de Béarn - the title and name of her husband, from whom she was separated at a very early age, but from whom she did not divorce until 1920 - was simply a universal collector, because there were few fields in which she was not interested. She accumulated - one purchase a day! - all her life, and the most incredible thing is that she almost never made a mistake, whether it was in the form of antiques, medals, drawings, paintings, sculptures, furniture, weapons, tapestries, enamels or even ceramics... To imagine what a museum would have been like to which she would have bequeathed everything is a futile, but dizzying exercise. It could have competed without difficulty with the Wallace Collection or the Musée Condé... Still, it is difficult to be precise, because this book is not a catalogue, a catalogue that will have to be made one day, even if the task is difficult: although it has kept a record of her purchases, this repertoire was not exhaustive, containing, as the author of this book points out, works of which nothing is known, while some of the most famous objects are not included. Charles de Bousquet, her secretary who kept the register, did not begin this task until 1894, whereas her own purchases began in 1890. And if she bought a great deal, she also resold, according to her desires.


1. Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian (1489-1576)
Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos
Oil on canvas - 110 x 80 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo: Getty Museum (public domain)
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The collection is, however, only one aspect of Martine de Béhague’s…

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