La Folie Monvel

  • Version Française
  • English Version
Par Stéphane-Jacques Addade

 Samuel H. Gottscho - Bernard Boutet de Monvel à Palm Beach devant le portrait de W. K. Vanderbilt 1937Bernard Boutet de Monvel, the distinguished French painter, is keen to build a house in all the charming places he visits, as he hates hotels. As a result of this, he now has five houses and the only reason he doesn't have more, he says, is that he doesn't travel enough... Last year, he went to Palm Beach for a month's relaxation. When he left, La Folie Monvel – the charming house depicted in this article – was already under construction.

Anecdotally, the name La Folie Monvel, although it refers to the XVIIIth century in France, gave rise to great confusion when Bernard Boutet de Monvel's wife and daughter came to visit him. The customs department, convinced that it was the name of a variety show in which they envisaged performing, almost refused to let them enter the country.

Bernard Boutet de Monvel was to request three features for this house from his architect, Mr. Maurice Fatio: a purely geometric layout (square, round or octagonal), complete privacy and a good northerly light. It isn't known why he wanted a geometric design: he simply liked such figures. In any case, the upshot of this was an amusing octagon which you can see on the floor plan opposite, designed by Bernard Boutet de Monvel himself


 Bernard Boutet de Monvel - Dessin du plan de la Folie Monvel 1937 Frank Turgeon Jr - La Folie Monvel, façade sud 1937

The main octagonal room – which combines a dining room and a studio – opens onto four square rooms, which are smaller and separate. Some adjoining terraces complete the three-sided construction, whilst the entrance lies on the fourth side.


Complete privacy was obtained by building the house on the summit of the only hill in Palm Beach. One terrace overlooks a lake, another a golf course, while the eastern terrace opens out onto the sea.


 Frank Turgeon Jr - La Folie Monvel vue du golf 1937 Frank Turgeon Jr - La Folie Monvel vue du golf 1937



Intérieur Palm Beach Bernard Boutet de MonvelInterieur 2 palm Beach chez Bernard Boutet de Monvel



The northern light – the artist's prerequisite – is provided by an immense north-facing window in the large octagonal room, which balances out a fireplace on the opposite wall (depicted in the photograph below). The furniture is made from natural rattan with purple covers; the walls are clad in natural cypress wood and the parquet radiates out in an octagonal design.


 Anonyme - Ruby «as a driver» 1937 Bernard Boutet de Monvel - Ruby dessiné pour Vogue 1937

The real reason why he built this house, according to Bernard Boutet de Monvel, is that he has always wanted black servants. Now, he has one, a general ebony-coloured handyman by the name of Ruby, sketched on the enclosed page. If he'd had another by the name of Pearl(1) he would truly feel fulfilled.



An unsigned article published in Vogue U.S. in January 1938 pages 72 - 73


(1) Bernard Boutet de Monvel's handyman was called Ruby, like the precious stone, and here the article features a play on words linked to jewellery, recalling this second name of Pearl.