the party of the century

Don Carlos de Beistegui y de Yturbe (1895 – 17 January 1970), was an eccentric multi-millionaire art collector and interior decorator and one of the most flamboyant characters of mid-20th century European life. His ball at the Palazzo Labia in Venice in 1951, an event so extravagant it was criticised by the Vatican, is still described as “the party of the century”. He was often referred to as “The Count of Monte Cristo”

image found here

In the early 1930s, he had a penthouse built on the Champs-Élysées, designed by Le Corbusier. It included an electronically operated hedge that parted to reveal a view of the Arc de Triomphe, and a roof terrace designed by Salvador Dalí.

image found here

In 1948, Beistegui acquired the Palazzo Labia, just off the Grand Canal in Venice, and began an intensive restoration. He purchased frescoes by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, and Guido Reni. These works of art, coupled with tapestries and antiques, restored the palazzo to its former splendour. So avid a collector was Don Carlos that his taste became known as “le goût Beistegui” (the Beistegui style). It was said that, in order to avoid the clatter of dishwashing at parties, he frequently ordered his soiled gold tableware thrown into the canal at the end of each course. (The ugly gossip was that he had laid a stout fish net on the canal bottom beforehand.)

image found here

On 3 September 1951 Beistegui held a masked costume ball. It was one of the largest and most lavish social events of the 20th century. The invitations went out six months beforehand. The guest list included the Aga Khan III, Barbara Hutton, Gene Tierney, Orson Welles, Gala Dalí and many others. 

image of guests at the ball found here

Christian Dior and Salvador Dalí designed each other’s costumes. Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were invited but did not attend. Many who would have liked to have been invited were not. The host wore scarlet robes and a long curling wig, and his normal height (5 ft. 6 in.) was raised a full 16 inches by platform soles. Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the ball display an almost surreal society, reminiscent of the Venetian life immediately before the fall of the republic at the end of the 18th century. The “party of the century” launched the career of Pierre Cardin, who designed about 30 of the costumes. Nina Ricci was another designer who was involved.

Pierre Cardin shoes found here

Champagne, lobsters, ballets, minuets, rumbas, sambas, Charlestons and a troupe of acrobats diverted the guests in the palace until dawn. In the courtyard, lordly Don Carlos had provided a special party for the common folk, including soft drinks, which they paid for, a free Punch & Judy show, and a contest to see who could climb to the top of a greased pole.

 

image found here

Despite this colossal extravagance and the enormously high-profile guest list he was able to attract, Beistegui did not generally warm to people, nor they to him. He remained personally aloof and shadowy, and was often accused of treating his friends and mistresses very poorly. He never married, and although he was said to have had many mistresses, his sexuality was the subject of speculation. A certain duchess was said to have been his illegitimate daughter….

not this duchess

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers