Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

The Ephrussis: Dog Weddings, Duels, and Stalin?

Ephrussi Villa

The elegant pink villa on the promontory of St. Jean Cap Ferrat was built for Charlotte Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. She was born into the European banking family of the Rothchilds and married Maurice Ephrussi, a friend of her parents, who belonged to a Russian banking family. They had homes in Monaco, Paris and Deauville as well as the magnificent villa on St. Jean Cap Ferrat. If you visit this villa, you will hear that Beatrice, as the lady of the house was known, had a wedding for her dog. But was that true?

She certainly loved animals. Her villa was equipped with a zoo, containing antelopes, gazelles, monkeys, and bird houses. And the animals weren’t only relegated to the zoo. Two monkeys and a mongoose were her favourite companions and lived in the house with her. She even had miniature furniture made for them. You can see the little chairs in her bedroom where a dog and the mongoose slept.

Ephrussi Dog Furniture

It’s obvious that Beatrice loved her animals like her children and that she was a bit eccentric. Her gardener told of how she had long and strange conversations with her animals. But did she really have a wedding ceremony for her dog in her Paris home? Monsieur Ephrussi categorically denied it.

A dog wedding

In December 1896 articles started appearing in newspapers in France and elsewhere recounting the fantastic marriage between Beatrice’s female poodle and the male poodle belonging to her father.

Here are some excerpts from a long and detailed account in the Morning Times, a Washington DC newspaper, dated 10 January 1897.

Latest Fad Among Members of French Smart Set

There is a new fad among the rich – dog marriages. And the creator of this fad is none other than Madame Ephrussi, daughter of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild and wife of Maurice Ephrussi. It is well known that Madame Ephrussi is a dog lover, a trait inherited from her mother. She went searching for a new form of amusement and the dog wedding is the result. At the home of Monsieur and Madame Ephrusse on Avenue du Bois de Boulogne in Paris.

Madame Ephrussi sent out formally engraved invitations to several hundred of her friends, announcing the approaching nuptials of Diane, her favourite poodle, and Le Petit Major, a handsome poodle owned by her father. Not only were the recipients of these invitations asked to come themselves, but requested to bring their dogs along. The humans and their dogs turned out in full evening dress.

Ephrussi Dog WeddingThe bride, Diane, who is described as a poodle of rare grace and beauty, wore a white satin dress trimmed with beautiful lace; a long tulle veil decorated with orange blossoms, and white kid shoes. Major, the bridegroom, wore full evening dress, swallow-tail coat, vest, trousers (not creased, because it is not fashionable to crease the trousers at weddings), patent leather shoes and gloves. On the buttonhole of Monsieur Major’s coat was a dainty orchid.

The notes of the wedding march softly floated through Madame Ephrussi’s magnificent ballroom and the ceremony commenced. First up the aisle, walking upright, were three small poodles, each in evening dress and joined together with a white ribbon. They were followed by the bride, leaning on the hand of her mistress. Behind them, walking on his hind feet without support, came Monsieur Major accompanied by Baron Rothschild.

Then came the bridesmaids and groomsmen, the former wearing white silk dresses and long veils; the latter in full dress and adorned with embroidered white satin coats. All these advanced upon their hind legs. At the end of the ballroom, the wedding procession was met by the stanch and sober bulldog of Comte de Berteux. Upon his head he wore a tall silk hat, and around his waist was tied the tricolor sash representing the office of the Mayor. After greeting the procession, the bulldog Mayor walked on his hind legs in a dignified manner, and then seated himself upon an embroidered cushion.

The Mayor looked solemnly at the young couple whose destinies he was about to unite, and then barked distinctly three times. The bridegroom gave a short bark. The bride barked low and impressively. A gold ring with a diamond setting was then slipped over the paw of the fair Diane, the Mayor barked gleefully, and the procession moved to the adjoining room where the marriage register was signed, in this instance the owners of the dogs having to act for them.

Next came the reception and supper. Every dog was given a seat at the table, and a regular course supper served. It is not stated that there was any reprehensible conduct on the part of the canine guests to any greater extent than is witnessed at a wedding supper at which only human beings are in attendance. And so passed off the first dog wedding.

Well, that seems a bit far-fetched doesn’t it? Monsieur Ephrussi thought so too. He wrote a letter to several papers denying that there was any truth to the story and demanded a retraction. Some of the papers printed a retraction and an apology to Monsieur and Madame Ephrussi.

A duel

Then the papers started to print that there would be a duel between Monsieur Ephrussi and Monsieur Paul Cassagnac who had written the article. It seems that Monsieur Cassagnac, as well as being founder of the Authorité newspaper, was an inveterate duellist. He had fought 22 duels between 1880-1889 without ever being seriously wounded. Some of his duels had been with other editors.

But alas, this also was not true. It was denied by both Monsieur Ephrussi and Monsieur Cassagnac and the papers had to do another retraction.

Stalin’s father?

And today, when Monsieur Ephrussi is no longer around to defend himself, I find on the internet a theory (believed by very few) that Maurice Ephrussi might have been the father of Joseph Stalin. Now that might be something worth duelling over. Poor Monsieur Ephrussi!

For more, see www.curiousrambler.com

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