Dirty Bertie, Prince of Wales and then King Edward VII, commissioned a fauteuil d’amour – essentially a stirruped “mount” chair – for his own personal use at the Paris Belle Epoque bagnio Le Chabanais. The chair earned quick notoriety, not only because of the sheer sexual proclivities of its obese master, but because of the reputed usage it got after his “reign”; it has been highly speculated that it was used by Fatty Arbuckle and Hermann Goring, both unhealthily large men who made innumerable visits to the fancy brothel in the 1920’s through 40’s. In addition, Walter Annenberg was one of the first visitors to enjoy tours provided by the owners and he included reminisces on the visit – likened to a tour around Madame Tussaud’s waxworks – and the chair in his memoirs.
Where the dirty was done.
Dirty Bertie went through mounds of women, including Winston Churchill’s mother, Sarah Bernhardt and Alice Keppel. Keppel gave birth to an illegitimate child that was rumored to be Bertie’s; this child went on to become grandmother to Camilla Parker Bowles, which probably caused some internal Royal controversy when official Bertie descendant Charles, Prince of Wales, began his little adulterous adventure. Lord Randolph Churchill apparently did not mind all Jennie’s sexual escapades, blatantly ignoring his wife’s frank affair with the Austrian count who won the Grand National by also including the count as a great friend. Winston grew up to be a solid unyielding devotee to his wife Clementine, a possible reaction to his mother’s frequent infidelity. One would love to speculate on when he found out: as a child, or a young adult… or much later, as PM?
Lady Randolph Churchill, born Jeanette Jerome in Brooklyn. I can certainly see what Bertie saw in her.
The fauteuil d’amour was auctioned off by Paris house Drouot and eventual resales landed it in the possession of Louis Soubrier, an antiques dealer whose family originally created the chair and supplied custom, Roman-style and pre-French Revolution-style furniture to the aristocrats of France (and obviously long-term visiting foreign dignitaries) since the 19th century.
That was not the only piece of scandalous furniture at Le Chabanais. Dirty Bertie also commissioned an oversized copper tub decorated as a half-woman, half-swan (Leda, perhaps) that was sized to fit his girth in the bottom and one or several aux belles poules on top for expensive French champagne skinnydips. Perhaps one of these women were like contemporaneous poule de luxe Cora Pearl, who charged $120,000 a night (at current rates) at her apex, swan dived naked in champagne in front of her party guests and later blackmailed many of her previous lovers for money during her memoir-writing years. Her lovers included Prince William of Orange; the duc de Morny; Prince Napoleon or “Plon-Plon”, who housed her at a grand Paris mansion with a $150,000 monthly allowance; and very possibly Napoleon III himself. Her published autobiography was extremely dull and she retired rich, so her blackmail probably worked on those besotted nobles. Salvador Dali eventually bought Dirty Bertie’s tub in 1951 for the princely sum of $3,500 (at current rates) at a fire sale when the brothel finally closed.
Cora Pearl, unfortunately not photographed during her dives.
La Chabanais itself was a Wonder of the World duing its heyday. Opened by a famous mid-19th century Irish madam, the interior cost over $12.75 million (again, at current rates) and is now, sadly, an office building. Once the home away from home for stars like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich and Anatole France, the building was stripped of all its splendor, including the Pompeii room, full of 16 artistically pornographic oil vignettes of coupling centaurs donated by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (now in private colections); the Japanese room, which won a design prize at the 1900 World Fair for its simple design of six divans in circular formation around an incense burner; the Pirate Chamber, a room which was copied in exactitude for the private mansion of poet Guy de Maupassant; and the Hindu Room, decorated with Indian memorabilia and accessorized by those two famous pieces of Royal furniture – the love tub and the love seat.
One of the fancy rooms. There were several picture of the rooms with comely occupants, but I refrained from posting those.
Politicians in the late 19th and early 20th century used to encode visits to Le Chabanais with the entry “visit to the Senate”. Today, funnily enough, much the same designation is used when the French government plans sightseeing trips for foreign dignitaries to Le Chabanais and other historical seraglios around Paris. Unfortunately, the French are more prude these days; S&M used to be a fixture at Le Chabanais but Paris now only contains one (known) S&M club. And publicly active brothels? Belgium and the Netherlands are only a few hours drive away.