A late 19th-century French mansion (pictured: west facade) shuttered for more than a century has opened its doors to the public, revealing an array of outdated luxuries and oddities.
The house once belonged to the wealthy, philanthropic, and "egocentric" civil servant Louis Mantin, according to Maud Leyoudec, assistant curator at the new Maison Mantin, or "Mantin house."
Mantin, who died in 1905, stated in his will that the house should be opened to the public a hundred years after his death. The mansion underwent extensive work to repair insect and mold damage before being reopened in October 2010, Leyoudec said.
Located in the city of Moulins (see map) in central France, the mansion was built to resemble a seaside villa, with a wood-and-ceramics facade, Leyoudec said.
But what's "strange," Leyoudec said, is that the villa incorporated a 15th-century medieval castle that had belonged to the Bourbon family, who later became French royals. The castle's stone tower and gray walls can be seen in the above picture.
According to curator Leyoudec, the "masterpiece of the house" is Louis Mantin's bedroom, whose walls are covered in an unusual material: gilded leather. Made in southern France in 1712, the leather was covered with silver leaf and yellow varnish, which gives it a golden hue (pictured).
The 1896 mansion is very typical of the time period, but it was also "very eclectic—you have a lot of styles represented in this house," she noted.
The Pink, or Four Seasons, bedroom (pictured) was a second home to Louise Alaire, a married woman who had a secret 20-year relationship with Louis Mantin.
Lined in silk, the room offsets Mantin's "very male" sleeping quarters, Leyoudec noted. The room also has elegant furniture in the style of French king Louis XV.
The original silk wall covering—whose pattern is called les amours, or "the lovers"—was in a "very bad state," but "fortunately we found a firm specialized in soft-furnishing weaving to weave again exactly the same material."
The wood floor immediately surrounding this fireplace, pictured before the restoration project, had to be removed due to worm damage, Leyoudec said.
Also, high humidity over the years had spurred the growth of mold, which required conservators to remove some murals for restoration. But some murals, such as those pictured above, were in such a bad state that they were later repainted.
Shown restored, the fireplace reveals a "strange and eclectic" style, Leyoudec said.
Topped by a sculpture of a woman's head, the fireplace also features ceramics of dead animals (just above the mantle), a devil fighting a dragon (center, below the mantle, in wood) a face at the bottom of each column, and a mirror (above the vase) that's positioned too high for a person to see his or her reflection.
Maison Mantin's lounge is decorated with furniture in the style of French kings Louis XV and XVI and artwork from Italy, the latter of which Mantin purchased during his European travels. The glass in the center arch is not a mirror, but a glass window on the next room.
The candelabra has three colored bulbs—in red, white, and blue—that signify the "attachment of Louis to the French republic," Leyoudec said.