30 Aug 2015

Winnaretta Singer (1865-1943) - Part Two: Between the Wars

From Appointment, 9:00 am on 30 August 2015

The Parisian salon hostess La Princesse de Polignac was an American heiress to the vast Singer Sewing Machine fortune. Winnaretta Singer married into the French nobility and became an important private patron of the arts.

Winnaretta Singer: Self portrait ca. 1885

Winnaretta Singer: Self portrait ca. 1885 Photo: Public Domain

Though she was universally known as La Princesse de Polignac, her birth name was Winnaretta Singer. She was American. She was heiress to the vast Singer sewing machine fortune. Between the late 1880s and the coming of the Second World War, she was one of the greatest private patrons of the arts in France.

Her salon flourished in Paris through the two contrasting periods of late Romanticism and Modernism in the decades either side of the First World War. During the Belle Epoque, that Indian summer before the gunshots at Sarajevo which put an end to an era, her much sought after atelier was the haunt of Chabrier, Fauré, Ravel, Debussy, Rubinstein, Proust, Diaghilev, Nijinsky and all the leading lights of the Russian Ballet.

After the war, her palace became a centre of Modernism. Names as varied as Stravinsky, Falla, Poulenc, Cole Porter, Cocteau, Colette, Le Corbusier and Picasso appeared in her programmes and on her guest lists.

She was a colourful character and attitudes toward her were ambiguous. Everyone recognized her intelligence, her taste, her generosity, and her breadth of interests. She gave financial support in fields far beyond that of her particular love which was music. She granted large sums of money to encourage literature, painting, sculpture, archaeology and architecture.

The Fondation Singer-Polignac is still active in Paris.

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