Martha Bibescu combined her aristocratic innate elegance and refinement with a passion for the arts.
Princess Martha Bibescu was born 130 years ago, on January 28th 1886 into a family of boyars, which gave the Romanian principalities rulers and kings. A travel enthusiast with a keen spirit of adventure (she was the wife of one of Romania’s first aviators, prince George Valentin Bibescu) Martha established various diplomatic relations, not only at an intellectual level, thanks to the large circle of acquaintances she had at home and abroad. She got acquainted with Marcel Proust, at that time a friend to her cousins Anton and Emanuel Bibescu, while part of her rich correspondence included Britain’s Labour Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald as well as Ann and Neville Chamberlain, the British conservative Prime Minister. In order to cultivate such relations one needed to be part of certain circles and also to have the right education. Here is art critic Doina Mandru with more on Martha Bibescu’s personality.
“Martha, as many other Romanian aristocrats, got her education inside the family, from her father and uncles. Her father was Jean Lahovary, Romania’s minister in Paris, Foreign Minister and a leading figure of the conservative party. Her uncles, Jacques and Alexandru Lahovary, were also personalities of the Romanian diplomacy, Romania’s ministers in Paris, Vienna, London and Constantinople. Part of her education came from her grandfather Alexandru Mavrocordat, the one she evoked in ‘Europe, the Nymph’. But what was the cultural universe of this multilingual princess? She first became fluent in French as her family spoke French at that time; from her servants she learnt Romanian as she confessed in her book, 'Izvor, Land of Willows'. In this book, she wrote back in 1923, the author makes an X-ray of the Romanian soul as she perceived it in all the 8 estates she owned at that time. It was there where she collected some of the songs, incantations and laments she heard from her servants. She drew up a calendar of the traditional holidays observed on her estate at Izvor, a name that could be translated as ‘Spring’.”
All the books she published after ‘Izvor, Land of Willows’, were written in French: ‘Le Perroquet Vert’ (the Green Parrot 1924), ‘Catherine-Paris’ 1927 and maybe the best-known ‘Au bal avec Marcel Proust’ (‘At the Ball with Marcel Proust’) in 1927. All those books were extremely well received in Paris at the time. In fact the princess was into the habit of turning almost all her major life experiences into literary works. Here is Doina Mandru at the microphone again.
“Martha Bibescu turned almost everything she touched into literature. She was a keen diarist and wrote her first diary as early as 1904. She kept a daily diary during her trip to Iran. She met Queen Marie whom she admired very much in her youth and whose rival she became at maturity. King Ferdinand is the main character of one of her books. She met Marcel Proust no less than three times and we know that from the writer’s personal housekeeper. Proust couldn’t stand the perfumes Princess Bibescu used, so he kept his distance. Martha met the writer in a literary salon organized by her sister-in-law. The invitations sent by Proust and her replies to him would give birth to yet another book, also describing the mood of that salon. Everything she touched became history, because she herself had a taste for it. Although she saw Constantinople and Persia at 18 years of age, she could discover those places through history’s lens”.
Married at only 16 years of age to Prince George Valentin Bibescu, Martha soon became the owner of wondrous estates. One such estate was a the foot of the mountains in Posada, while another one was close to Bucharest, in Mogosoaia, where her ancestor Constantin Brancoveanu had built a palace in the 18th century. Built in the Brancovan style and restored in the interwar period by Martha Bibescu, the palace owes today’s aspect to the efforts of Princess Bibescu. Settled in Paris in 1945, Martha Bibescu became a member of the Belgian Royal Academy in 1955 and in 1962 she was awarded the French Legion of Honour. She died in 1973 in her apartment in Saint Louis in Paris.
(Translated by D. Bilt and V. Palcu)