A tribute to the French interior designer, tastemaker and muse, Madeleine Castaing

Photo from French Interiors: The Art of Elegance by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery
(Paris: Flammarion, 2009)

"Madeleine had three reasons for living: The first, the leitmotif of her life, to love and be loved by her husband Marcellin. Then comes Soutine, whom she considered to be the greatest painter of the century. And in far last was that brilliant and worldwide success about which she would say, ‘I make houses like others write poems,’ what would become known as le style Madeleine Castaing. Inimitable."

– Jacques Grange

As quoted in Emily Evans Eerdmans, The World of Madeleine Castaing, Rizzoli, 2010, p. 9.

When Madeleine and Marcellin Castaing first arrived in Montparnasse in the early 1920s, Paris was already an epicenter for the artistic and literary avant garde. The couple immersed themselves in a cosmopolitan circle that included Picasso, Derain, Léger and Cocteau. At the same time, Madeleine began honing her interest in antiques -- a passion she cultivated while decorating the family home outside Paris, and one that became a profession in the 1940s when she opened her own antiquaires shop on the Left Bank. Eschewing the classical French interiors of the period, she preferred to juxtapose more eclectic pieces, claiming, "Mixing allows you to avoid reconstruction. It injects life into a grouping." She adopted what was then a groundbreaking approach to her shop displays, outfitting her store in the style of a residence and arranging her wares into chic vignettes. By the time of her death in 1992 at age 98, Madeleine Castaing had been in business for over 50 years and made an indelible mark on the French interior design scene.

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), Le petit pâtissier, circa 1927
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


Rather than adhering to a specific movement or period, Madeleine’s unique style drew upon a myriad of inspirations, from English Regency and Neoclassical traditions to the romantic interiors conjured by the novels of Proust and Balzac. Dubbed le style Castaing, her trend-setting interiors represented the perfect mélange of tradition and playfulness. She had an unrelenting love of patterns and was also fearless about color, often employing irreverent combinations to breathe life into a space. Le bleu Castaing – a beguiling robin’s egg blue – remains one of her signatures.

Photographs of her lavishly decorated country home, la maison de Lèves, provide some of the finest examples of le style Castaing. Considered by many historians as her career masterpiece, the home was a blank canvas on which Madeleine could work her idiosyncratic aesthetic magic. Filled with signature touches like wall-to-wall leopard print carpet, patterned curtains and tufted seat furniture, it was both intimate and grand, warm and witty.


In the mid 1920s, Madeleine and her husband embarked upon what would become a lifelong dedication to the work of one painter: Chaim Soutine. The Castaings first encountered the then destitute Soutine in the early 1920s when they offered him a hundred francs at a café in Montparnasse as an advance on a painting that they would choose from his studio. He angrily refused the money, offended that they would propose buying a painting that they had never even seen.

After that, the Castaings saw nothing of Soutine until 1927, when they encountered him again at his first solo exhibition. This second meeting marked the start of an enduring friendship, one that would prove beneficial for both Soutine and the Castaings. The couple began to buy Soutine’s work in quantity and eventually amassed a collection of more than 40 of his paintings. The Castaings were the first owners of Le petit pâtissier, a highlight of Christie’s forthcoming Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art.

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