Madeleine Castaing (1894–1992) was a French antique dealer and interior designer of international renown. She was the friend and the sponsor of many artists, including Soutine, who made her portrait in 1928. Original, even whimsical, she revolutionized the world of decoration, creating the style Castaing which is now a reference.
The daughter of an engineer who built the train station in Chartres, Madeleine Magistry early married an heir from Toulouse, the art critic Marcellin Castaing. Their meeting, very romantic, had concluded by a "kidnapping" of the girl, who was barely fifteen or sixteen at the time. Twenty years older than she was, Marcellin Castaing was known for his impressive literary and artistic culture. During the fifty years of their marriage, he remained his wife's great love, according to all the couple's friends, including the writer and photographer François-Marie Banier, who remembers "Madeleine's legendary love for her husband".
In the 1920s, Madeleine Castaing made her debuts as an actress in silent films, then gave up this career while being already nicknamed "the French Mary Pickford".
At that time, her husband had offered her a neoclassical manor she had been longing for, in Lèves, not far from Chartres. He wanted her to "unwind", he explained. The young woman had indeed discovered her own vocation for interior design.
Shortly after their friend Modigliani's death, the Castaings made the acquaintance of Soutine at the Café de la Rotonde, in the centre of Montparnasse. The first meeting was difficult: Soutine refused the 100 franc note handed to him by Marcellin Castaing in order to buy him a painting without having even looked at it. A few years later, in 1925, the Castaings could buy their first painting by this artist at Leopold Zborowski's, the primary art dealer of Soutine and of Modigliani, and became friends with him. From 1930 to 1935, they welcomed him home during the summer in their mansion of Lèves, becoming his patrons and main buyers. It is thanks to them that Soutine could hold his first exhibition in Chicago in 1935.
The Castaings possessed more than forty paintings by this artist, which means the most important private collection of Soutine's works. Madeleine Castaing saw in him the greatest painter of the 20th century: "Above others, he gives his hand to the Greco and Rembrandt", she said.
Madeleine Castaing's portrait by Soutine, entitled La Petite Madeleine des décorateurs, is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The words "petite madeleine" refer to the "petite madeleine" of Proust, an author Madeleine Castaing was specially interested in: she spent decades reading In Search of Lost Time again and again, fully, several times. She had discovered this work in 1913.
Generally speaking, the Castaings were patrons of artists belonging to the École de Paris and to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
Madeleine Castaing was a friend of Erik Satie, Maurice Sachs, Blaise Cendrars, André Derain, Jean Cocteau (she arranged his house of Milly-la-Forêt), Marc Chagall, Iché, Picasso, Henry Miller, Louise de Vilmorin (to whom she inspired the character of Julietta in the novel of the same name) and Francine Weisweiller (for whom she decorated the Villa Santo Sospir at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat). In the 1970s, she helped François-Marie Banier by purchasing a dozen of his photographs for 70,000 francs.
The historian and politician Michel Castaing (1918–2004), the Castaings' younger son, was a famous expert in paleography. Michel's son, Frédéric Castaing, is a specialist in autographs and also a novelist.
When Michel Castaing died, in 2004, the mansion of Lèves was sold in auction, as well as the family collection of paintings and art objects, including seven paintings by Soutine.
The Decorator's Decorator
Wildly beloved and relatively unknown, legendary designer Madeleine Castaing finally gets her due
By DAVID NETTO
Updated Oct. 9, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET
Every now and then in the continuing blizzard of books on design and decor, somebody truly first rank gets left out. There is no good reason for this, but it does make it very exciting when the book finally comes along that does justice to the omission.
The long-awaited "World of Madeleine Castaing," about the French interior designer who died in 1992 at age 98, is such a book. It manages to be both love letter and catalogue raisonné devoted to this most charismatic and mysterious of great lady decorators. In the history of style, she is as important as it gets: Ms. Castaing's use of color is one of the few perceptible influences on the otherwise sui generis work of English decorator David Hicks. Her love of late-19th-century furniture was groundbreaking. For 50 years, her Paris shop was a stage for her ideas and an unforgettable source of inspiration for those not too intimidated to go inside. Her fabric line is still sold today. As for her character…Well, you could love her just for her wig with the elastic chin strap and false eyelashes.
Jacques Grange—in my opinion the greatest decorator of our time—wrote the book's foreword. He was a friend and admirer of Ms. Castaing in the twilight of her career and the beginning of his. "Her vision of interior design was both whimsical and poetic," he writes in the book. "It was influenced by neoclassicism but reinterpreted with her colors and shapes in a unique and never outdated way. A constant source of inspiration for every interior designer, she remains for me one of the most extraordinary personalities I ever met."
The genius of Madeleine Castaing's rooms is very hard to decode. Like all truly successful decoration, the magic comes from the flower of the combination, rather than the individual parts. But let's have a try. There are several elements contained in this picture, the games-sitting room of her legendary apartment on the rue Bonaparte, that give us a glimpse into her process and the things this most Grande Dame of decorating so deeply cared about.