The history of the Ritz hotel in Paris, the epitome of high living set in one of the city’s most imposing squares, exudes glamour, elegance and intrigue.
Now there is a chance to own something of its glorious if at times tarnished past.
Next month, 10,000 objects from more than a century of providing luxury to the wealthy, but no longer needed after a massive renovation project costing €400 million (Dh1.8 billion), will go under the auctioneer’s hammer in one of the most fascinating saleroom events of recent times.
"It really is a unique opportunity for people to go home with their own piece of the emblematic legend of the most famous hotel in the world," Stephane Aubert, the associate director of the Artcurial auction house, told The National.
“It is an exciting sale, a major event for the Ritz itself and a celebration of the distinctive style that makes it much more than a hotel, more a castle on the Place Vendome with a special place in French history.”
An almost random selection of items, arranged in 3,500 lots, including a minibar thought likely to fetch up to €600, chandeliers, Louis XV and Louis XVI-style furniture - from a dog bed valued at €200-360 to a desk that could fetch as much as €7,200, will go on sale from April 17-21. The bidding will be preceded by a week-long exhibition at the Artcurial headquarters at the foot of the Champs-Elysees.
It is difficult to quarrel with Mr Aubert’s belief that no other hotel in the world has quite the cache of the Ritz, which opened in the dying years of the 19th century midway through the Belle Epoque, a period of relative prosperity for France.
The empress of 20th-century fashion, Coco Chanel, lived there for 30 years, including during the Second World War when the Nazis occupied several floors and a German spy chief was among her lovers. She escaped post-war prosecution but declassified documents later suggested she collaborated with France’s occupiers on matters of intelligence.
Chanel died in 1971, aged 87, in the sumptuous Ritz suite that still bears her name and now costs between €18,000 and €28,000 for a single night.
The swashbuckling American author Ernest Hemingway, later to win a Nobel prize for literature, famously claimed to have liberated the hotel bar as the Nazi occupation ended, and it was later named after him. “When I dream of after-life in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz," he once wrote.
The English king Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 over the scandal caused by his wish to marry a divorcee, Wallis Simpson, stayed there regularly with the wife who had cost him the throne.
Diana, the princess of Wales, dined there with her friend, Dodi, the son of the hotel’s Egyptian owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, immediately before both were killed in a high-speed road accident as their chauffeur, who also died, tried to shake off pursuing paparazzi in 1997.
Much of Europe’s royalty and aristocracy favoured the Ritz and, as pointed out by the auctioneers, so did such American billionaires as the Rockefellers, Goulds and Vanderbilts who would “spend without counting” on lavish soirees when visiting Paris.
The British statesman Winston Churchill stayed there. The Italian actress Sophia Loren called it "the most romantic hotel in the world". And the Ritz has featured relentlessly in fiction as a setting in novels, from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and F Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, in Noel Coward's play about 1920s Parisian high life, Semi-Monde, and in several films including three featuring Audrey Hepburn.
Marcel Proust may not have written In Search of Lost Time at the Ritz but often dined there in a private room. The maitre d'hotel Olivier Dabescat was a close friend whose intimate knowledge of the establishment and its guests proved an invaluable research resource for the seven-volume classic.
Built on the site of an 18th-century town house, the Ritz was opened in 1898 by Cesar Ritz, who rose from peasant Swiss origins to be acclaimed “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings”.
But before the four-year renovation began in 2012, the Ritz was showing signs of age and attracting negative comments from some guests. It also lost its prestigious “Palace” status awarded to France’s most luxurious hotels, though this is now expected to be restored.
In January, there was another bout of unwelcome attention when robbers smashed the display windows of ground-floor shops and stole jewellery and watches worth €4m. The haul was recovered and three suspects were arrested.
Artcurial has previously organised sales for a number of other top hotels, from the Crillon in Paris to the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, with proceeds topping €12m.
It says the latest auction of hotel treasures glorifies a recognisable Ritz style “harmoniously combining paintings, chandeliers and French antiques from Louis XIV to Empire style, including Regency and Louis XVI … a spirit created by Cesar Ritz, who perfected the tone to seduce American guests with the comfort and elegance of a hotel which combines modern American comfort and French ‘art-de-vivre’.”
“We are already receiving lots of calls from people who want to to see the exhibition and then bid for items at the auction,” said Mr Aubert. “It promises to be a very successful sale.”