She wanted to build the “most beautiful hotel in Paris” – and it still resides 25 avenue des Champs Elysées. La Païva was both a grande horizontale and patron of the artists that made the grandeur of the Belle Epoque style.
Esther Lachmann, aka La Païva (1819-1864) was without a doubt the most brilliant of the Parisian cocottes. Arrived alone and with empty pockets, she met the composer Henri Herz. Quickly, the later introduced her to all Paris. Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Théophile Gautier, Emile de Girardin, La Païva makes a sensational impression in all men of good taste but soon prefers a certain Portuguese Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva. She married and took his name, but barely had the marriage been consummated that she took leave. She divorced in 1852 having caught her eye on a young Prussian lord, Guido Henckel Von Donnersmarck. A cousin of Bismarck and second largest fortune of Prussia, he was for La Païva the missing puzzle piece in accomplishing her dream. During her marriage in Passy, she is already honoured when the public notices her tiara – so remarkable that it rivalled in its splendour to that of the French Imperatrice. A few months later, her husband would begin the great works for her hotel particulier in 25 avenue des Champs Elysées. Her influence on luxury and the arts was just beginning.
Hence, as it were in bon tom at the time, La Païva would furnish and decorate her hotel in the pure pomp and splendour of the Belle Epoque. It took ten years of works for the edification of one of the most sumptuous hotels of the capital – and close to 40 million euros were spent. Commissioning artists that were unknown to the public, La Païva contributed to the reputation and to the elaboration of the Belle Epoque style. For example, there bathtub made from the same bloc of Algerian yellow onyx – equipped with three faucets. One for water, the second for lait d’ânesse, the third for champagne. It is also the artist Paul Baudry that was entrusted with the realisation of the high ceilings of this hotel particulier. An execution of such beauty that he would receive the Prix de Rome in 1850. A few years later, Charles Garnier called on his talent to create the iconic foyer of the Opéra Garnier.
Once again the silverware is signed Christofle. The goldsmith maison at which César Ritz would later acquire the crockery for his palace. At the Musée d’Orsay are visible two console of a wild beauty – created in bronze by the illustrious Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse and Aimé-Jules Dalou. A most accomplished incarnation of the taste of the Belle Epoque, La Païva’s hotel particulier became the place to be. Napoleon III himself would pass a few times to see with his own eyes the exceptional taste of which all of Paris was talking. However, the influence of La Païva was not only a question of taste for design.
She was also a figure of fashion. Contributed to making khôl fashionable. It is towards her that, Charles Worth – pioneer of Haute Couture- turned to when he wanted to remove crinolines from his dresses – the fascination was so that La Païva would serve as a muse to the couturier for a long time. To jewellers as well! Her vision, all in extravagance, allowed the nascent reputation of today’s legendary houses. Among which Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels, La Païva had indeed very precise taste in jewellery. After having noticed a jewel at the exposition universelle in 1878, she passed an order for a collerette of 407 diamonds with François Boucheron! Her “babies” as she called them were part of one of the most spectacular sales at Sotheby’s. It was in 2003. The sale of two large yellow diamonds named Donnersmarck – they flew for 3 million euros. A sign that the inspiration of the greatest of the cocottes resides even today in the pantheon of objects of desire!