Born into a somewhat conservative yet bourgeois family in Paris, Pierre Chanzy – July 18th 1860- June 28th 1919 - was always more of a dreamer. His mother attributed this to the fact that he was born during a full solar eclipse.
He was only 11 years old when German soldiers fired 12.000 shells into the city of Paris during the ‘Siege of Paris’ in 1871. The Prussians may have defeated the French army, but not the French spirit.
The German March on the Champs Elysees had created a common spirit of resistance amongst the French population, which remained a life-long inspiration for Pierre.
At the atelier of his painter friend, Julien Brobje, he fell passionately in love with a young model, Juliette.
Her innocence, deep blue eyes and white complexion fuelled a platonic love that remained unconsummated, as Juliette died only 3 years later of tuberculosis.
Heartbroken, Pierre Chanzy left his beloved Paris to travel the world ’with a curious mind and an open heart’ as he wrote in one of his many letters.
His travels took him to French Indochina, but also to Western Africa: Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mauretania as well as New Caledonia.
‘The world is my home’ he used to say.
He never married but remained ‘a constant Lover of Beauty’ as he was referred to in his obituary in the Gazette de Paris.
His return to Paris in 1900 coincides with the Universal Exposition that attracted millions of visitors from around the world.
Paris had become once again a buzzing centre of arts. Many masterpieces of literature, music, theater and film gained world recognition. The Exposition popularized also a new artistic style, the Art Nouveau, to the world.
Pierre was particularly pleased to have assisted at the first public screening of Georges Méliès iconic silent film ‘Voyage dans la lune’ (A trip to the Moon) at the Olympia Music Hall on September 1, 1902.
It is widely regarded as the earliest example of the science fiction genre and, more generally, one of the most influential films in cinema history.
In the same year, architect Achille Champy built an outstanding little Hotel Particulier the Maison Chanzy for Pierre.
Outstanding because, compared to other Parisian Art Nouveau buildings, its brique and stone façade was heavily influenced by Belgian architect Victor Horta, with a wink to the early works of Catalan architect Gaudi.
These years in Paris were golden years for Pierre Chanzy and he soon became part of what was called ‘le beau monde’. He shortly befriended a Dutch exotic dancer called Margarethe Zelle better known under the name Mata Hari. They had a short but passionate liaison.
It is during these happy years that Pierre Chanzy also developed his exquisite taste in wines.
In the meantime, tensions had been growing again between France and Germany. It was on a wave of patriotic fervor that Parisians entered the First World War in August 1914.
During the war years, Paris had become the command center of the French military and the French economy and they became a priority target for German espionage. Their most famous spy turned out to be Mata Hari. She had become part of an espionage network directed from the German Embassy in Madrid. French intelligence suspected her because of her frequent ravels to Spain. She was arrested on February 13, 1917 at the Hotel Élysée Palace, and tried and convicted on July 24. To Pierre Chanzy’s great regret, she was executed at dawn on October 15, 1917.
Over all, this was a difficult period in Pierre Chanzy’s life. Too old to go to war, and with a gradually deteriorating health, he became more and more a recluse and withdrew in his home at Aix en Provence, the Bastide Chanzy surrounded with his memories.
He spent the last years of the war at the Bastide looked after by Jeanne, a young red haired nurse who supposedly also became his lover and who –officially- resided at the Bastide Chanzy looking after Pierre.
On November 11th 1918, at 11 o’clock, in the fog, the church bells of the little Saint Marguerite Church around the corner of Rue Chanzy started ringing, announcing the armistice. Enthusiastic crowds filled the Champs Élysées, to celebrate the end of the First World War. But Pierre Chanzy was not amongst them to celebrate.
Although the armistice ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty.
On June 28 1919 Pierre Chanzy died of pneumonia at his home of Aix-en-Provence,
in the arms of Jeanne, on the very day that the Peace Treaty was signed.